Travel

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
Photo courtesy of Space Perspective
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.

Photo by Rob Kachelriess
Photo by Rob Kachelriess
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.

Photo courtesy of Moonbikes
Photo courtesy of Moonbikes
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.

SkyDrive Inc.
SkyDrive Inc.
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
Targus
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.

Photo courtesy of Space Perspective
Photo courtesy of Space Perspective
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 BMV and other companies (including an “EV startup”) with the technology expected in use by the end of 2023.

Photo by Rob Kachelriess
Photo by Rob Kachelriess
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
Triggo
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.

Photo courtesy of Sierra Space
Photo courtesy of Sierra Space
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.

Photo by Rob Kachelriess
Photo by Rob Kachelriess
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.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

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.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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