7 sci-fi innovations that will change travel

7 sci-fi innovations that will change travel

Driverless cars and phones that make travel arrangements

You may recall from January a story about a Canadian man who was able to cross the U.S. border using a scan of his passport on his iPad. Turns out that wasn't entirely true, as he also had his birth certificate and driver's license on him.

Nevertheless, it's assumed this kind of digital identification will be part of the future of travel, just as some airlines already allow digital boarding passes on smartphones.

More high-tech innovations that appear beyond reality now could soon become standard.

Here are seven innovations that could just change, even enhance, the travel experience. 


Driverless car in BerlinHands free! Not just your phone, the whole computer-controlled car.

1. Driverless cars

AutoNOMOS Labs tested its first driverless car in Berlin in September 2011. A similar project has persuaded the State of Nevada to allow Google to test its autonomous cars on Nevada roads.

A system consisting of a computer, multiple cameras to monitor traffic lights and obstacles, as well as an internal GPS system, directs the car.

These cars can help travelers unfamiliar with roads and rules in a foreign place deal with GPS and maps. Driverless cars can respond to stimuli and obstacles much faster than human drivers, making traveling by car in a strange city a safer experience.

Smart tech zone in Airbus' Concept CabinNo need to squint at tiny screens to figure out what movie you're watching.

2. An aircraft cabin you won't want to leave

Airbus unveiled its vision for the aircraft cabin in 2050 before the Paris Air Show in June 2011. The traditional division of cabins according to classes will cease to exist.

Instead, there will be personalized zones catering to passengers' individual desires -- be it to relax or work wirelessly while in the air.

Airbus claims that airlines will be able to recoup revenues generated by today's cabin-class system by accommodating and charging for individual flight experiences.

Hologram of buildingMakes sitting through someone else's holiday pictures actually tolerable.

3. Holographic 3D displays bring anecdotes to life

3D remains a niche medium in entertainment, even if every other person has seen "Avatar" in 3D. Detractors point out that current 3D technology remains primitive and can cause headaches.

Belgian company Imec hopes to come up with the first working prototype of a holographic display with moving images in mid-2012, bringing to life a revolutionary 3D experience.

Sitting through treasured family holiday slide shows will never be the same. 

Mike Walsh, author of "Futuretainment" and CEO of innovation research agency Tomorrow, says sharing travel experiences with others will become much more realistic when they're actually sitting next to your coffee table.

A holographic 3D display will function using services such as Google Earth to map out the journey, while cameras automatically take snapshots of your trip, figuring out the most interesting subjects through algorithms.

Read more on CNNGo: Hotel room of the future?

The Zero Emission High Speed TransportationThe queues at the airport will take longer than the actual flight.

4. Hypersonic jets to zoom across continents

European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, which owns Airbus, unveiled plans to build the Zero Emission High Speed Transportation (ZEHST) at the Paris Air Show in June 2011. The ZEHST is a hypersonic jet that will fly passengers from London to New York in an hour.

The jet makes use of technology that already exists (but needs to be modified from military use to civilian use) and can take off and land at commercial airports.

This hypersonic jet will come into use only by 2050, but the wait will almost certainly be worth it. 

Hologram "Holly" at London Luton airportImpossible to get mad at a hologram, isn't it?

5. Holographic airport staff

Select airports in Europe have introduced holographic airport staff -- like London Luton's "Holly" and "Graham" -- to make the process of airport security more efficient and easy to understand.

These holographic virtual assistants remind passengers of restrictions on carry-on baggage and provide tips to ease security screening.

The move is meant to keep passengers happy and simplify the airport experience without employing more staff.

Let's just hope “Holly” and “Graham” remain friendly and don't develop minds, and attitudes, of their own.

Read more on CNNGo: The airport of the future

Virgin Galactic's spacecraftSpace is now just a US$200,000 ticket away.

6. Space as a holiday destination

Space travel has been bandied about as the next great leap in travel for the last decade or so, and several companies, including Virgin Galactic, XCOR and Space Adventures, have already accepted reservations.

After multiple test flights in 2011, Virgin Galactic could be ready to send its first paying customers into space this year, with seats going for US$200,000.

As commercial space travel becomes a reality, many of the trappings of the current travel industry will move into this new market.

Insurance giant Allianz has rolled out a space travel insurance scheme, similar to its existing products, but adapted for sub-orbital routes.

Space flights planned for 2012 will include only five minutes in orbit, so the space hotel under development by Russian firm Orbital Technologies will have to wait until longer trips become viable.

Smartphones on displayYour phone will buy the latest Justin Bieber album, so you don't have to.

7. Mind-reading smartphones to make purchases for you

IBM predicted in its year-end “5 in 5” that spam email will soon become extinct. The company highlights five innovations it predicts will materialize in the next five years.

Instead of spam, only data and information that is relevant will be filtered into your phone.

Thus will mobile phones become so wired into our interests that we'll trust them to make purchases on our behalf.

For travelers, smarter smartphones will generate a personalized trip, filtering out uninteresting activities. They'll alert us of hiccups in travel plans in advance so we can alter plans before arriving at the airport.

First published January 2012, updated August 2012

Hoishan Chan is a recently returned Hong Konger by way of Singapore and the United States. She dreams of writing a television script and coming up with the perfect cookie recipe in her free time.

Read more about Hoishan Chan