Flying Taxis and Balloon Rides to Space Will Change Travel in 2022

Plus passports replaced by face screenings, COVID breathalyzer tests, luggage that can’t be lost, and metaverse glasses.

Photo courtesy of Space Perspective

A CEO is describing a balloon that glides through space for a few hours, cocktail bar included, before returning to earth with a gentle splash in the ocean as a yacht waits to pick up the passengers. This is met with nods all around, because this audience is used to imagining far-fetched possibilities. This is a gathering of techies with lots of ideas and the funds to execute them—and many of their inventions already exist today, ready to be unrolled. Welcome to a look into the future.

Normally, the thought of trade shows instantly summons boredom—but not CES. This annual tech convention offers a glimpse into a future dominated by electric vehicles, robots, and something strange and sinister called the metaverse.

After going all-digital (appropriately so, in more ways than one) due to the pandemic in 2021, the latest edition of the Consumer Electronics Show returned to Las Vegas the first week of January. The event was more toned down than usual (thanks, Omicron), but still offers a fascinating peek into the potentially dramatic changes for how you travel this year, in the next two to three years, or by the end of the 2020s. Take a look.

aska
Not a video game or a plane console—this is a car steering wheel. | Photo by Rob Kachelriess

Ride in a car with wheels, wings… why not?

Flying cars used to be something you only saw in James Bond movies, but they're fast becoming a reality for the consumer market. Aska is building a full-size prototype in Silicon Valley that may take flight as soon as this year. The four-seat vehicle has six propellers and is mostly electric with a small gas-driven generator to restore used battery power. It's designed to take off and land vertically, but also has wheels to be driven like a car. "When you land, everything folds up and tucks away less than eight feet (wide), so it's street legal," says David Hoover, who's in charge of manufacturing and production.

The speed tops out at 150 miles per hour with a distance of 250 miles—perfect for traveling from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe or the Hamptons to Manhattan in less than an hour. The company is targeting a $789,000 price tag, so start saving up those dollars now. Anyone behind the wheel would need to have a pilot's license and depart from an actual airport, just like any other private aircraft.

Travel and try on clothes from your couch, via the metaverse

You'll soon be able to take a vacation without leaving the comfort of your couch. The word that dominated CES this year was "metaverse"—a catch-all phrase for 3D virtual worlds. Digging into the possibilities would take an entirely separate article, but CES proved that there's no shortage of businesses and products eager to jump into these uncharted digital waters.

Caliverse by South Korea's Lotte Data Communication is developing virtual experiences for attending concerts, watching movies, and shopping (in which your digital avatar can try on clothes before you buy) by donning a pair of googles. Headsets by Oculus were used for demonstration purposes at CES. "If your friend is living in France and you're in the US, you can meet and join the online concert whenever you want," says Manager David Yoon. If nothing else, it saves the price of a plane ticket.

moonbikes
Moonbikes are already being used in the French Alps. | Photo courtesy of Moonbikes

E-bike through the snow

Your next winter ski vacation might not require skis at all. Check out Moonbikes, the first electric bike for zipping through the snow. No emissions or noise, which is especially important when considering the sensitivity of sound for potential avalanches. A Moonbike kinda looks like a motorcycle, but with tank-like track propulsion in the rear and a single ski or snowboard-style leg in front. The concept originated in the French Alps and is already being used at winter resorts. The bike is also useful for those who live in the mountains or plan to vacation in a remote lodge that isn't easy to reach by car.

Speed through the airport with face scans

Even the TSA will get better with technology as it meets security and public health needs. "The demand around seamless travel will lead to some exciting public-private sector collaborations in the near future," says Ha McNeill, former chief of staff for the Transportation Security Administration. She's now CEO of Pangiam, a company working with Google Cloud to improve aviation security for checked bags via AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning).

Biometrics scanning could come into play too. "One could envision an experience where the traveler uses their face to enable a curb-to-gate process from checking in bags, security checkpoints, lounge access, and boarding, [while] never having to take out an ID and boarding pass," adds McNeill.

Personal jet meets personal vehicle. | SkyDrive Inc.

Hover a flying taxi over the Grand Canyon

Skydrive is a Japanese company with a flying taxi prototype that already has a thousand hours of testing under its belt. It looks like a giant drone with two passenger seats. Eight individually controlled motors with eight propellers are powered by eight batteries. If one goes out, the others pick up the slack. "The reason why it's so small is we want to make sure it can land anywhere two cars can park," says Skydrive representative Nicolas Zart.

The flying taxi is also autonomous—a safety feature since, you know, do you really want humans driving this thing? The company is targeting the tourism industry first, with an interest in using the taxis for sight-seeing near cruise ships, trade shows, or even popular destinations like the Eiffel Tower or Grand Canyon. Skydrive expects the flying taxis to be in service by 2025.

Targus
You definitely need this in your life. | Targus

Never lose your luggage again

Targus recently introduced the Cyprus Hero eco-backpack. Made from recycled water bottles, it's the first baggage officially authorized to sync with the "Find My" technology by Apple that's commonly used to track down missing iPhones. If your bag is lost or stolen, you can determine its location in seconds using an app. Just pair it via Bluetooth. Unlike an AirTag, the tech is built in—and can also work in reverse with a button inside the backpack to ping a lost phone.

The Cyprus Hero holds a 16-inch laptop and is available to buy this spring for $149.99. "This is geared toward anyone who needs to carry their laptop and protect it—and also have that sense of security to know where your backpack is at all times," says Andrew Corkill, vice president of global marketing and e-commerce. Targus plans to use the tech in larger luggage in the future.

See everything through the eyes of a virtual tour guide

Kura earned a CES 2022 Innovation Award for its Gallium lightweight glasses that push the boundaries of what's possible in augmented reality. Imagine walking through a museum and receiving 8K-level graphics in your line of vision that identify a painting as a Monet or Picasso with detailed information. Imagine walking outdoors at Disneyland with virtual characters—that only you can see—interacting with real-world settings. The product includes a 150-degree field-of-view, 95-percent transparency, and unlimited depth-of-field. In other words, this technology is going to merge reality and the metaverse in ways you've never seen before.

space perspective
And you thought hot air balloons had good views. | Photo courtesy of Space Perspective

Take a balloon ride to space

Who needs rockets? Space Perspective is taking a completely different approach to space tourism, making flights smooth and easy at a pace of 12 miles per hour. A balloon carries eight people and a pilot inside a pressurized capsule dubbed Spaceship Neptune to 100,000 feet above the Earth. There will be a bar and bathroom on board without any emissions, noise, or g-force to get in the way. You can even have a wedding ceremony up there.

The entire journey lasts six hours before the capsule splashes down to the ocean, where you and everyone on board can "get picked up by a beautiful yacht perhaps," says founder and Co-CEO Jane Pointer. "Think of it as a luxury space flight experience." Reservations are already sold out for 2024, but currently available for 2025.

Drive with augmented reality on your windshield

Expect road trips to look very different in the no-so-distant future, thanks to 3D Augmented Reality Head-Up Displays (or 3D AR-HUD) by CY Vision. The tech turns real life into a virtual world, thanks to hologram-like pop-ups on your windshield that interact with real-world situations. The effects range from lines in the road and turning cues that reflect GPS directions to pop-up graphics that signal when your car is passing a four-star restaurant or a hotel with vacancies available. It can also announce when you're passing notable landmarks.

In a world with enough distracted driving as it is, could this make things worse? "It's actually an improvement," argues Co-Founder Hakan Urey, adding that the technology prompts on-the-spot warnings for jaywalking pedestrians and potential car collisions. "These features enhance driving safety." CY Vision is working with BMW and other companies (including an "EV startup") with the technology expected in use by the end of 2023.

covid test
This breathalyzer won’t tell you if you’re drunk, though. | Photo by Rob Kachelriess

Test for COVID in seconds with a breathalyzer

ViraWarn by Opteev Technologies is ready to unleash Freedom on the world. It's a personal breathalyzer-like device that can detect if the user is carrying the coronavirus or flu within five seconds. It's not a stretch to think every tourist (especially those traveling internationally, on a cruise, or attending a crowded trade show like CES) might want to carry one of these portable units. So how accurate is it? "100 percent," according to CEO and Co-Founder Conrad Bessemer, citing a George Washington University study.

He says the device can make an accurate reading "whether there are 2,000 virus particles or 200," since it recognizes a tiny electrical charge that happens when a spike-protein virus interacts with a solid conductive polymer disc. Bessemer is hoping the FDA can approve Freedom via Emergency Use Authorization with a projected retail price of $199 to $259. The cartridge is good for up to 300 tests. Each replacement is $40. The company also has Liberty and Liberty Plus: in-room devices that can detect viruses in the air, which may come to a hotel near you in the future.

Triggo
It’s like a motorcycle with walls. | Triggo

Traffic jams? What traffic jams?

Triggo has unveiled an electric car with a unique perk: the width can be modified at the touch of a button, bringing in the wheels and chassis for a slimmer frame to navigate between other vehicles and bypass traffic jams like a motorcycle. The thin mode operates at slower speeds, while the regular wider modification can handle highway speeds.

"You don't have to buy one. You might rent one," says CEO Rafal Budweil. The cars, produced in Poland, can be ordered on an app and delivered to your location via remote control—an appealing prospect for visitors in busy tourist destinations. Triggo vehicles are proving to be attractive for emergency use situations too. Police and fire services in Singapore have signed up to use the vehicles this year.

You don’t need to be an astronaut to board this plane. | Photo courtesy of Sierra Space

Take a space plane to a commercial space station

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson dominate the headlines, but space tourism doesn't begin and end with billionaire bro-culture. Sierra Space (a spin off company of the Sierra Nevada Corporation) is aiming to launch Orbital Reef by the end of the decade. Think of it as a business park and space station in one. "It's going to be the largest real estate development in space," says Chairwoman Eren Ozmen. Sierra Space is also the force behind Dream Chaser, a "space plane" designed to transport crew and cargo to lower orbit and return to any airport on Earth. If you're wondering if Sierra Space is the real deal, just know the company already has a $3 billion contract with NASA.

Transform your hotel room to your mood that day

Marriott took advantage of the hype surrounding CES week to announce a new design lab at its Maryland headquarters to test and explore new innovations with partners like Carrier and LG Electronics. One idea involves "transforming" hotel rooms with layouts altered at the touch of a button for evolving purposes. "A Murphy bed of the future," is one example cited by Marriott International President Stephanie Linnartz, "where you can have a bed that flips up and turns into a desk." You may also see kitchen features that appear and disappear or televisions and other entertainment components that drop from the ceiling. The concept is in the early stages, but could resonate in dense urban markets like New York, where every inch of real estate comes at a premium.

wifi
So small for something so mighty. | Photo by Rob Kachelriess

Take wifi with you on the go

Internet access can be a crapshoot when traveling, especially across borders. If you don't want to be at the whim of hotels and coffee shop passwords, Ukrainian-based Nect produces a portable modem that fits in the palm of your hand. The device provides high-speed 4G LTE connectivity in 113 countries on your laptop or another device with a sim card and USB port. "You can take it with you anywhere," says Head of Business Development Vlady Berezina. "When going through lines at an airport, nobody will ask you questions because it's so lightweight." The modem doesn't have a battery; it lasts as long as the charge in your device. There are no contracts, and the modem can work as a hotspot for up to 10 devices.

Order up a self-driving bus

South Korean company Ciel is developing a new concept that falls somewhere between ride-sharing and public transportation—with autonomous vehicles, of course. Users will request a ride from any location using a phone app. An artificial intelligence hub will then dispatch a self-driving car or bus (depending on real-time demand and conditions) with routes determined live on the spot. Ciel plans to debut the technology in Seoul before rolling it out in other cities.

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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than eight years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.