We’ve partnered with Qantas to bring you an amazing story each month on AWOL.
To celebrate 95 years of Qantas – an airline that’s always been on the cutting edge of aviation – PATRICK LENTON looks at what travel will be like in the next 95 years.
“Where’s my hoverboard?” screamed every single person on Twitter during the recent Back to the Future Day, which celebrates the exact moment Marty McFly travelled into the future. The movie predicted all sorts of things about reality that unfortunately have not come true – like hoverboards, self-lacing sneakers and time-travel, to name just a few. It’s easy to be disappointed that all of science fiction’s predictions have been so massively off base. Real life can seem so boring. But even though we’re not currently boosting ourselves around with jetpacks or teleporting to our friends’ houses, there are actually a lot of extremely scientific developments both here and in development that completely revolutionise how we get around, why we get around, and where we get around.
Here are some of the most exciting predictions and trends of the tourism of tomorrow – today.
The Aircraft Of The Future
When you think about it, the humble aeroplane hasn’t changed that much since the Wright brothers dreamed of a big kite that can carry a man. OK, that’s actually a lie – planes are amazing. They are giant tubes that are somehow kept aloft with “science” that fly us all over the world. They’re brilliant. We should all be amazed and perpetually astonished. Qantas has been brainstorming ways in which we can continue to be gobsmacked by planes, and they’re turning to science to make it happen. The aircraft of the future will be loaded with more amazing gadgets than Batman’s belt – and will be far more comfortable.
For the flying businessperson, Qantas have been dreaming up a ‘Business Pod’, which will turn the humble seat into a workstation. The workstation will sync with the passenger’s computer or phone and project it onto a high resolution screen, allowing them to make the budget, check their stocks, fine-tune their powerpoint presentations and do other activities that I imagine businesspeople do. And when the bottom line has been reached, they can lie back and take in the ‘Panorama’ function – smart LED strips that project the view outside as well as images of iconic destinations, projected across the roof of the cabin.
In fact, the aircraft of the future is well and truly devoted to comfort. Some of the proposed technologies include pyjamas that are not only snuggly, but sync with your inflight entertainment, giving customers the ability to physically feel their favourite film. This is more along the lines of feeling the rumble from car chases, rather than a beating from Batman, but it sounds amazing. Speaking of movies, you can forget about lame flat screens – the future is mixed reality glasses.
Combining personal computing and see-through holographic lenses, these glasses not only create interactive entertainment – such as 3D films – but also can help passengers plan further travel and provide directions. There’s also a cushion that’s connected to you via Bluetooth, which monitors if you are sitting uncomfortably and can correct poor posture or recommend breathing patterns – which makes the cushion sound a lot like my mum.
Automated features in the aircraft of the future also include a robot which will help facilitate customer service in the lounge, using artificial intelligence and advanced algorithms to speak and listen to you. My favourite feature is a special cup, which automatically signals for a refill when it senses any passenger dehydration.
Travel From The Safety Of Your Own Home
Perhaps the future of travelling is … not travelling at all? This isn’t some kind of zen riddle. Rather, the future of travel could be in virtual reality. Unlike the movie Tron, we still don’t have the ability to get transported literally into the computer, but we do have the next best thing – virtual reality headsets.
Qantas has partnered with Samsung to create a 360-degree interactive 3D virtual reality headset to provide some guests on select flights. These guests are able to sit back in their chairs, turn on the headsets and travel the world from their seat. Destinations like The Great Barrier Reef, Hamilton Island and Kakadu National Park are popular, as well as more active pursuits like climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The headsets are currently being trialled in the Qantas First lounges in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as on some A380 flights from Sydney to LA. The future is literally now. It seems incredibly efficient to do some virtual reality travelling while you’re on the plane doing some real life travelling. It also doesn’t seem long before the headsets will be a staple of the family home, and instead of sitting back and watching The Bachelor, we’ll be doing a family tour of Stonehenge, floating up the Nile or climbing up icebergs – with none of the discomfort, cost or fear of death from doing those things IRL. Virtual reality is also a great way to sample a destination before you decide to book your ticket and go there – after all, nothing is as good a the real thing.
Super Mega Airports
Jack Plunkett – CEO of Plunkett Research, a firm specialising in the travel industry – says the future of airports can be summed up easily in one phrase: “Much bigger, and much more efficient.” Already, airports have become an odd melange of a train station, a mall and a food court. It’s not hard to imagine yet more staples of every-day life being crammed into the mega-airport of tomorrow. Hotels, spas, apartments, waterparks, golf courses – entire generations of people born, living and dying in the airport, not knowing anything outside of its walls. (OK, maybe not quite so extreme.)
An airport being built in Mexico City – which is slated for completion by 2020 – is designed to handle up to 50 million people a year and is optimised for energy efficiency. All gates are within walking distance, the roof is built to incorporate solar energy, and there is an on-site rainwater collection and distillation facility. Here’s a projected picture of the completed super airport, which kind of looks like a weird pink organic hat.
This move towards more sustainable mega-airports isn’t just happening in the hazy, distant future – some have already been put into place. Heathrow’s terminal was the first in the world to be certified by BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology, duh) for its sustainable design and operation, which includes a reduction of CO2 emissions, water efficiency and lighting control system to keep energy use down.
In Australia, Adelaide Airport has announced that it’s harnessing all that free energy from the sun and installing a 1.17MW solar PV system on the roof of its car park. This brings its total installed solar capacity to 1.28MW and cuts its energy consumption by close to 10 percent. This will be the largest solar panel system in any Australian airport, and other airports aren’t far behind, with Alice Springs announcing the installation of more than 1000 panels. Qantas has also launched one of Australia’s largest trigeneration power plants, which supplies their Sydney headquarters with clean energy for electricity, heating and cooling. A trigeneration power plant is a high efficient low-carbon form of energy production, and not, as I thought, a factory where you, your parents and your grandparents all work. Qantas expects the trigeneration plant to help cut carbon emissions by around 14,000 tonnes per year, which is the equivalent of taking 3,500 cars off the road.
Or everyone could take a leaf out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which employs a herd of goats, sheep, llamas and donkeys to graze on the nearly 8000 acres of property. That’s right – the future is large herds of animals. Kind of like the past.
(Above: An illustration of Mexico City’s energy efficient super airport)
Hotels Staffed By Robots … Wait, What!?
It’s all fine to concentrate on the how of travelling, but where do you stay when you get there? Hotels are also due for a futuristic spruce, especially as travel becomes quicker, more efficient and more common. Hotels run entirely by robots could become the norm, because I assume robots don’t get paid very much and are ideal to work in hospitality (due to their piercing eye lasers and bulletproof exteriors).
A hotel in Japan is already ahead of the trend as it’s staffed almost entirely by robots. Henn-Na Hotel (translated to ‘Weird Hotel’ in English) features a robotic dinosaur receptionist, a robot concierge named Tulip, and plans for drones to fly snacks to your room. With over 80 robots and just ten human staff, Henn-Na is oddly located in a Dutch-themed amusement park in Nagasaki.
The Crowne Plaza in San Jose and the Aloft Hotels brand of Starwood Hotels are already utilising androids in their hotels to deliver room service to their customers. The room service android is named ‘Dash’, is three feet tall and can travel at the same speed as a human, even catching the lift. They also have a robot butler named A.L.O, which they called a Botlr (a much more clever name than ROBO-JEEVES). A.L.O assists by delivering amenities such as towels and extra pillows, and also accepts tips via Twitter. Its personalised Botlr uniform, including collar and nametag is also entirely adorable, until Skynet happens and we’re dumping all the Botlr’s into molten lava.
Your Non-Smiling Head Up In The Clouds
The most terrifyingly common travel disaster story usually involves a dame with legs that won’t quit and a houseboat chase down the river Thames. Also, people lose their passports a lot. Luckily, the Australian government is now trialling passport-less travel. Travellers’ identities and biometric data would be stored in a ‘cloud’, meaning passengers would no longer have to carry physical passports with them or risk losing or having them stolen.
The entire idea was the result of what the Sydney Morning Herald termed a “hipster-style-hackathon held at the Department of Foreign Affairs”. The DFAT Ideas Challenge asked for ideas that would provide a radical rethink of business as usual, and which ended with the ideas being presented to Chris Vein from the World Bank, the secretary Peter Varghese, Assistant Minister Steve Ciobo and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. Bishop predicts that the idea will “go global”. Every science fiction writer predicts that the idea will “steal our identities, will be the death of us and result us all living inside the Matrix, man”. Still, we’re pretty psyched.
Social media and technology has promised us a more inter-connected world. Nowadays it’s almost impossible to have breakfast without your mother being notified via Twitter. Sorry, I just channelled my inner baby boomer. But it’s true – social media provides an ability to be connected with the people you love and the people you can barely tolerate at all times. While this can be a beautiful, comforting and communal thing, it can also sometimes feel cloying and claustrophobic. And as more and more businesses decide to employ recent graduates to write Facebook posts, social media can also seem like work.
All this has led to the rise of ‘unplugged holidays’, where the lure is to disappear into a jungle with no phone or computer or iPad and have some time away from the clamour. In the future, these kind of trips might become more of a staple, with companies offering monastic style trips to beautiful, remote locations which have never even felt the blink of an Instagram. One of these is ‘Restival’, an unplugged festival which bills itself as “an innovative fusion of retreat and festival; an evolutionary happening sparked by the desire to switch off, step away from technology and re-connect with ourselves”. Lucky attendees pay to stay in a luxury eco-camp situated among the sand dunes in the Sahara desert, and will do non-tech activities like yoga, mindfulness, writing, camel riding and sandboarding. It all sounds quite fun – but what’s the official hashtag?