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Flying taxis, ‘earthscrapers’, insect kebabs: is this really the UK in 50 years?

Joseph Flaig

An 'earthscraper' beneath the Shard in London, as imagined in the Samsung KX50 report (Credit: Samsung/ TaylorHerring)
An 'earthscraper' beneath the Shard in London, as imagined in the Samsung KX50 report (Credit: Samsung/ TaylorHerring)

Underground skyscrapers, 40-minute flights from London to New York, Quidditch-style aerial sport – and nuclear fusion might even be a viable energy source.

Those are some of the many predictions for 50 years’ time in a new report, Samsung KX50: The Future in Focus. Written by six of the UK’s prominent academics and futurists, including Royal Academy of Engineering director of engineering and education Dr Rhys Morgan, it forecasts massive advances in sectors including transport, construction and biomedical engineering.

Many of the predictions in the UK-centred report are recognisable from today’s cutting-edge engineering, while others are more left field. Highlights include:

Flying taxis

The nascent flying taxi industry faces major challenges before its predicted domination of urban transport. Those obstacles will apparently be overcome in 50 years, the report predicts, with high-powered vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) vehicles flying above traffic to their destinations. The airspace above rivers and waterways will be used for clear routes across the sky, the publication says – it could also ensure safety for people who are not wealthy enough to travel around above the ground.

Only 33% of 2,000 people surveyed by Samsung said they wanted to see the technology become reality, however, reflecting the ambivalence of many despite the sector’s insistence that it is just around the corner.

Organs on demand

The focus of increasingly-advanced research, 3D-printed organs will have reached the stage of providing instant replacements in 50 years, according to the publication. It claims they could even exceed the quality of our original parts, with upgrades such as night vision or improved lung capacity.

Rockets to New York

Reusable rockets will fly long-distance routes between international cities, according to the Samsung report. Beating Concorde and even future equivalents, the vehicles could enter near-space to hit top speeds of about 30,000km/h, getting from London to New York in well under 30 minutes.  

Going underground

Urban skylines such as London’s are increasingly crowded, so will planners and architects start to look underground in future? Professor Dale Russell from the Innovation, Design, Engineering course at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London says they might, with ‘earthscrapers’ like inverted skyscrapers burrowing far underground. Some have already been proposed, such as the reportedly earthquake-resistant Underground Science City to house 4,500 people in Singapore.

The document also discusses self-healing structures, which could use rainwater-activated bacteria to excrete limestone or other hard materials into cracks.

Floating buses

Superconducting rails enabling magnetic levitation are a promising technology that could be implemented in future transport, the report predicts. With no electrical resistance, the technology could enable smooth, quiet and efficient bus or train rides, potentially reducing costs.

The publication also includes less obvious and more speculative predictions. Subsonic tube transport systems could apparently run under the sea for example, with pods travelling as far as Scandinavia in under an hour. It remains to be seen whether insect burgers and kebabs could really convince the public, while holidays in space sounds similar to the misguided predictions of early 20th century futurists for the coming millennium. And could insurance companies ever really allow “Quidditch-style four-dimensional sports”?

In general, says co-author and president of techUK Jacqueline de Rojas, “we can expect to be connected to everything, and everything we do will be assisted by digital technology.”

The report was published to coincide with the opening of Samsung KX, a new installation in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, London.

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