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Astonishing travel innovations that could change the world for the better

The future of travel

<p>Spike Aerospace, Inc.</p>

Spike Aerospace, Inc.

The world of travel is in constant flux, with advancements in aviation, hotels and more changing the way we explore this planet. From energy-positive hotels to Stockholm's proposed 'flying' electric ferries, these are the other cool travel innovations we can't wait to try.

A new supersonic jet

<p>Spike Aerospace, Inc.</p>

Spike Aerospace, Inc.

Dreaming of a trip across the pond? A ground-breaking new supersonic jet could slash the time it’ll take passengers to hop across the Atlantic. The novel aircraft – Spike S-512 Quiet Supersonic Jet – is pioneered by Spike Aerospace and could eventually see travellers reach New York from London in as little as 1.5 hours.

A new supersonic jet

<p>Spike Aerospace, Inc.</p>

Spike Aerospace, Inc.

The new jet has been likened to Concorde for its super speed: it’ll travel at Mach 1.6 initially, with hopes to eventually increase the speed to Mach 3.2. But, unlike its famous predecessor, the jet is set to be super quiet. Technology to thwart the noisy “sonic boom effect” – occurring when an aircraft passes through the air faster than the speed of sound – has been prioritised in the jet’s design.

A new supersonic jet

<p>Spike Aerospace, Inc.</p>

Spike Aerospace, Inc.

The plush cabin is worth a mention too – all clean lines and swish leather seats. Most hi-tech of all are the digital screens that operate in place of windows. They’re another noise-mitigating innovation and they allow passengers to choose between watching movies, their own presentations or the vistas unfolding outside the jet. It’s thought that the Spike S-512 Quiet Supersonic Jet could enter commercial service by 2028.

A lie-flat bed for economy travelers

<p>Ryan Fletcher/Shutterstock</p>

Ryan Fletcher/Shutterstock

Air New Zealand is another carrier making sure passengers have a good night’s sleep. The airline has revealed the Economy SkyNest: six “sleep pods” that allow economy class travellers to lie flat and get some shut-eye. Inspired by capsule hotels, they’re more than six-feet (2m) long and 58cm (23in) wide and they come with creature comforts like ear plugs, a privacy curtain and bedding.

A lie-flat bed for economy travelers

<p>Air New Zealand</p>

Air New Zealand

Economy passengers will be able to book the SkyNest in timed sessions, allowing them to get some rest en route before returning to their seat. It comes as the airline gears up to launch a super-long-haul flight from Auckland to New York, with a journey time of 17 hours 40 minutes. The unique pods are set to be installed on Air New Zealand's new Boeing 787 Dreamliners which are due to enter service in 2024.

Super long-haul flights

<p>James D. Morgan/Getty Images</p>

James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Australia’s flagship airline, Qantas, is another company that’s making the world that bit smaller. The carrier’s Project Sunrise is focused on ultra-long-haul routes, joining up the east coast of Oz with world destinations including London and New York. This follows the 2019 launch of direct flights from London to Perth, with a journey time of around 17 hours (the first flight is pictured here).

Super long-haul flights

<p>Qantas</p>

Qantas

In 2019, a test flight saw a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner travel direct from London’s Heathrow Airport to Sydney in 19 hours and 19 minutes. A flight from New York to Sydney, with a journey time of 19 hours 16 minutes, was also trialed that year. In 2019, the plans were halted due to COVID-19 but Qantas announced in May 2022 that direct services are set to link Sydney and Melbourne to New York and London by late 2025.

Super long-haul flights

<p>Qantas</p>

Qantas

The carrier has made efforts to combat jet lag and look after passengers’ welfare on these super long-haul flights, too. The Perth International Transit Lounge was opened just before the launch of the Perth-London route and includes state-of-the-art shower suites with ‘light therapy’ technology, designed to help passengers adjust to new time zones. There’s also a wellness studio (pictured) for stretching, relaxing and limbering up before lengthy hours in the air.

An electric plane

<p>Eviation</p>

Eviation

It’s estimated that the aviation industry accounts for around 2% of all global human-induced CO2 emissions and some savvy companies are dreaming up ways to combat the problem. Israeli company Eviation has created the world’s first all-electric passenger plane, Alice: the award-winning aircraft operates on a battery and produces zero emissions.

 

An electric plane

<p>Eviation</p>

Eviation

Designed for short-haul journeys, Alice can travel some 650 miles (1,046km) on a single battery charge at a speed of 240 knots. She’s got room for nine passengers in her comfy cabin (pictured), and a batch of the aircraft has already been sold to US carrier Cape Air. This comes as Scandinavian countries Norway and Sweden have pledged to run all short-haul flights with electric airliners by 2040. Watch this space…

Spacious suites

<p>JetBlue Airways</p>

JetBlue Airways

Low-cost American carrier JetBlue is making comfort sky high with its brand new Mint Studio. These two, roomy mini-suites at the front of JetBlue’s newest airplanes are tipped as having “the most space in a premium experience from any US airline”. They even have a guest seat so you can hang out with another passenger en route.

Spacious suites

<p>JetBlue Airways</p>

JetBlue Airways

Best of all, though, is the bed, which is tipped as one of the largest in the air. In the Studio, a privacy door hides a comfy seat and an adjoining sofa that switches out into a generous lie-flat bed. There’s also a plush Tuft & Needle mattress and plenty of mod cons, from wireless charging to a 22-inch TV screen. The Mint Studio launched in 2021 and is available on all flights to and from London, as well as selected JFK-LA flights.

Smart hotels

<p>Leyeju Smart Hotel</p>

Leyeju Smart Hotel

From green boltholes to robotic breaks: smart hotels are big business (especially as we recover from COVID-19) and there are plenty of new kids on the block. Among them is the Leyeju Smart Hotel (pictured), which has locations across China. Just two staff members are employed at each hotel, purely for emergencies – the rest is covered by robots, who even guide guests straight to their room. Check-in is via facial recognition and everything from lights to temperature is controlled automatically.

Robot room service

<p>YOTEL/Facebook</p>

YOTEL/Facebook

US hotels are embracing robotics too. You’ll spot adorable robot YO2D2 flitting about YOTEL Boston, entertaining travelers and performing basic customer services. YO2D2 brings towels and linens to guest rooms, delivers purchases and summons lifts. He’s available for selfies too.

A fully vegan hotel suite

<p>Hilton London Bankside/Facebook</p>

Hilton London Bankside/Facebook

It’s estimated that there are some 600,000 vegans in the UK and plant-based guests at the swanky Hilton London Bankside are well catered for. Not just in the restaurant, either. Design company Bompas & Parr created what’s tipped as the world’s first entirely vegan suite at the hotel and it opened to guests in 2019.

A fully vegan hotel suite

<p>Hilton London Bankside/Facebook</p>

Hilton London Bankside/Facebook

The key material in the suite is Pinatex, a ‘leather’ made with pineapple leaf fibers, which is used for the room’s furniture. There are no feathers in the pillows, either – instead they’re plumped up with things like buckwheat hulls and tree fibers – and the rugs are made from cotton rather than wool. Of course, the drinks in the mini-bar and the toiletries in the bathroom are 100% vegan too. The suite is available to book now.

Choose your own hotel room

<p>Lost_in_the_Midwest/Shutterstock</p>

Lost_in_the_Midwest/Shutterstock

Hilton's digital offering is top notch and its hi-tech amenities are centered around the Hilton Honors app. Using the app, guests can now not only check in online, but choose their very own hotel room, just like you would an airplane seat. Once you've entered your arrival time, you can peruse a floor plan and select your chosen location. When your trip's up, you can check out digitally too.

A hotel on the move

<p>Accor Hotels/Sebastien Dupic</p>

Accor Hotels/Sebastien Dupic

Imagine a hotel that can simply be picked up and moved on to a new location: that’s the USP of the Flying Nest, the brainchild of French hospitality group Accor. Slick guestrooms are housed within converted marine containers that can be shifted and assembled at the drop of a hat. So far the hotel has popped up at a beach, a festival and a ski resort in the French Alps.

 

A hotel on the move

<p>Accor Hotels/Sebastien Dupic</p>

Accor Hotels/Sebastien Dupic

The nomadic hotel rooms have plenty of home comforts, too: there’s air conditioning, Wi-Fi, cozy linens and a private bathroom. They’ve also got a green focus, with LED lighting, eco-friendly paint and sustainable energy solutions like greywater recycling.

Robot museum tours

<p>Hastings Contemporary</p>

Hastings Contemporary

The COVID-19 pandemic saw museums, galleries and attractions across the UK shut their doors – but one East Sussex gallery was determined to keep its art accessible to visitors. Enter the Hastings Contemporary Robot, a video-conferencing bot that allows visitors to explore the gallery from the comfort of home. He's seen here before a work by Quentin Blake.

 

Robot museum tours

<p>Hastings Contemporary</p>

Hastings Contemporary

Art-lovers are able to log in and gain control of the robot – a collaboration with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory – then direct it around the gallery to the pieces of their choosing. Upcoming tours will be promoted here and via Hastings Contemporary's social channels.

A bus-hotel hybrid

<p>Cabin</p>

Cabin

Long-distance bus travel may not sound like a thing of luxury, but California company Cabin is aiming to "completely reinvent the bus as we know it". Cabin's vehicle – tipped as the "dream machine" – sits somewhere between a bus and a luxury hotel, with comfy sleeper cabins complete with cosy linens, ambient lighting and little touches like slippers.

A bus-hotel hybrid

<p>Cabin</p>

Cabin

Drivers take specific routes to make for a smooth journey and minimise (literal and figurative) bumps in the road. There's also special  bump-cancelling technology that senses uneven road surfaces and moves beds up and down accordingly to control unwanted "turbulence". Cabin vehicles currently travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a typical journey time of around eight hours – just long enough to wake up refreshed and ready to explore a new city.

 

Virtual balconies

<p>Royal Caribbean</p>

Royal Caribbean

Inside cabins are a money-saver on cruises, but that means you miss out on the sweeping ocean views afforded by rooms with a balcony. Royal Caribbean has just the solution. Stretching right from floor to ceiling, its high-definition "virtual balconies" show real-time footage of the sea outside, with sound effects thrown in for good measure. This snap shows a virtual balcony in action on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.

Wearable tech on cruise ships

<p>Princess Cruises</p>

Princess Cruises

Carnival Corporation, a cruise company with subsidiaries including Princess Cruises, Seabourn and Holland America, has won awards for its Ocean Medallion. The tiny wearable device tracks your location onboard, meaning you can order a drink from anywhere, and also check your itinerary and find your way through the ship. It even recognises you on your approach to your suite and opens the door automatically. Sensors are dotted across participating ships like Princess Cruises' Royal Princess (pictured).

An energy-positive hotel

<p>Snøhetta Plompmozes</p>

Snøhetta Plompmozes

If you’re dreaming of getting far off the grid, this might be just the place. Set in the Arctic wilds of Norway, Svart, designed by architecture firm Snøhetta, is tipped as the world’s very first energy positive hotel. Solar panels line the venue’s sleek roof and, according to its creators, the hotel will reap enough solar energy to cover its operations and its construction too.

 

An energy-positive hotel

<p>Snøhetta Plompmozes</p>

Snøhetta Plompmozes

The hotel’s design has nature at its heart. It was inspired by local architectural traditions like “rorbuer” – stilted cabins used seasonally by fishermen – and it juts out into the Holandsfjorden fjord, supported by weather-resistant wooden poles. It’ll be reached by an energy-neutral boat, that’ll shuttle guests to the hotel from the remote town of Bodø.

An energy-positive hotel

<p>Snøhetta Plompmozes</p>

Snøhetta Plompmozes

The sweeping circular design isn’t just for style points – it’s got a very specific function, too. Architects carefully mapped the solar radiation in this setting of peaks and water, and settled on this circular construction as a way to harvest as much of the sun’s energy as possible. Restaurants, terraces and its 99 rooms were all strategically placed to take advantage of this solar power too. The hotel aims to be entirely self-sufficient within five years of running: this includes water, electricity and farm-to-table food. It’s slated to open in 2024.

 

High speed trains may replace airplanes in Europe

<p>JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images</p>

JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images

Fancy a high-speed railway across Europe? Rail industry leaders plan to create a vast network of super-fast trains between every major city in the European Union. The new rail lines will make travel across Europe easier, quicker and greener, in a bid to encourage more passengers to turn away from air travel.

High speed trains may replace airplanes in Europe

<p>PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images</p>

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

High-speed train travel is already hugely popular in cities like London, Brussels and Paris so the demand for a larger network is rapidly growing too. The current plan is to double high-speed train use by 2030 and triple current levels by 2050. According to French rail operator SNCF, a direct line from Berlin to Paris could start running as early as December 2023.

Electric ferries that halve commuter times

<p>Candela P-12 Shuttle</p>

Candela P-12 Shuttle

The world's fastest and most energy-efficient electric ship, the Candela P-12 Shuttle, is coming to Stockholm in 2023 – and it promises to reduce emissions and slash commuting times by half. The 'flying' ferry has three carbon fiber wings that extend from underneath its hull, raising the ship above the water to decrease drag (and reduce seasickness). The futuristic ferries can carry 30 passengers and will initially travel from the Stockholm suburb of Ekerö to the city center in 25 minutes.

Electric ferries that halve commuter times

<p>Candela P-12 Shuttle</p>

Candela P-12 Shuttle

Since the hydrofoil Candela P-12 Shuttle creates almost zero wake and so avoids wave damage to other vessels or sensitive shorelines, it has been granted permission to travel at faster speeds of 30 knots. Its wake-free capabilities also make it an attractive mode of transport for cities such as Venice, which has declared a "macro emergency" due to the damaging impact of boat wakes on its fragile buildings.

Germany runs the world's first hydrogen-powered passenger trains

<p>Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images</p>

Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images

Germany is now home to the world's first hydrogen-powered passenger trains – with plans to expand into Frankfurt, northern Italy and France. This emission-free mobility means that 14 trains will operate in Lower Saxony and are expected to completely replace diesel trains in the next year. Pictured here is one of the Coradia iLint trains on a trial run in France in September 2021.

Germany runs the world's first hydrogen-powered passenger trains

<p>JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images</p>

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images

First presented at Berlin's InnoTrans 2016, the regional trains are an environmentally-friendly solution. Their range of 621 miles (1,000km) means they can run on a single tank of hydrogen for one day. Better still, they produce zero emissions and emit only a low noise.

A Caracat to transform camping

<p>Schneider Caravaning GmbH</p>

Schneider Caravaning GmbH

Love camping but find the idea of being on land a bit limited? This is where a unique new vessel, the Caracat, comes in. A luxury caravan that transforms into a catamaran invites campers to stay on land or lake, and is available to order now from Cara-Cat.com. There are three models to choose from, starting at $129,000 and reaching $298,000, all fitted with a rechargeable electric motor. It'll need to be towed on land, of course, but once you take to the water, 'pontoons' extend outwards increasing the width of the Caracat for stability while cruising.

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