As the Verge put it on Monday, 2015 was the year we learned that Silicon Valley is coming after the transportation industry. The momentum behind ride-hailing apps, driverless cars, and electric vehicles has become so powerful that their dominance can feel inevitable.
But who are the Teslas (TSLA) and Ubers of 2016—the unicorns still waiting for their horn, the ideas still inching their way towards reality? Here are just a few of our nominees.
Hyperloop – It’s still a longshot that we’ll ever see Elon Musk’s 2013 whitepaper become a functioning superfast transit system, but 2015 saw a huge uptick in investment and talent devoted to the project. 2016 is going to provide at least one more major step forward—the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, which will gather university teams in Texas, and later California, to share ideas about pod design.
WATCH: Learn more about the Hyperloop.
Skytran – Arguably as cool as the Hyperloop, but with fewer technical hurdles, this system of elevated, magnetically-driven pods is scheduled to have a working demonstration system in Tel Aviv by the end of 2016. The technology emerged from NASA, so it’s got a good pedigree—though, as with Hyperloop, there are questions about whether it can move enough people to dent congestion.
Arx Pax Hover Tech – Speaking of the Hyperloop and NASA: In 2015, Arx Pax went from a loopy little mag-lev startup who funded a hoverboard on Kickstarter, to a NASA development partner with an ambitious mission to transform a half-dozen sectors with mag-lev technology. They also reportedly raised an additional $3.8 million, partly from Moonshots Capital, who have also held stakes in Ridescout, TrueCar, Pandora (P), and LinkedIn (LNKD). Arx Pax’s next big push is towards partnering with teams at the Hyperloop competition, where they’re hoping mag-lev can beat out the original whitepaper’s iffy air-hover proposal.
Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication – Always-on wireless communications between cars, and between cars and infrastructure, will almost certainly spread more quickly than driverless cars, while providing a lot of similar benefits in safety and efficiency. The Department of Transportation is expected to release its rules for V2V in early 2016, which will hopefully push the auto industry closer to a true standard. It’s possible those rules will include a mandate to push for faster adoption. Another big question is how and when V2V data will be gathered, who owns it, and what they get to do with it.
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PhunkeeDuck – That other “hoverboard,” a two-wheeled micro-Segway that became one of 2015’s hottest trends, was actually marketed under a variety of badges. PhunkeeDuck was just the company that got the most mileage out of it, with celebrities like Jamie Foxx, Chris Brown, and Wiz Khalifa name-checking them all over social media.
But as NPR’s Planet Money discovered, the scooter-whatever-it-is emerged semi-organically from China’s tech underground, and there are no discernible patents in place, making it easy to find cheap knockoffs. That means sustaining both interest and profits in 2016 is a big question for companies like PhunkeeDuck. It might not help that the non-Instagram use cases are somewhat limited.