Why you should care

Because saving the planet, gas and time looking for parking is the best way yet to step into 2014.

There are warring impulses at the heart of modern industrialized civil engineering.

One is to move the greatest number of people around quickly, efficiently, and with the least impact on the surrounding environs. Which a train would do quite nicely.

The other impulse is to do this individually. Witness: horses, bikes, and single persons in cars, clogging up highways and byways and causing all sorts of environmental mayhem.

But what if efficiency and low impact could be reconciled with highly individual travel plans?

In our occasional ¿Por qué no? series, OZY looks ahead and asks “Why couldn’t these be in our future?”

Merging these impulses has been a collective obsession for the gearheads ever since sci-fi movies started positing that by 2001 cities would be populated with people zipping hither and yon with jet packs. And yet: while cars have gotten smaller, and occasionally electric, with some even folding up neat and tidy, individual transport vehicles have largely floundered.

The jury is still out on whether the Segway is a failure or just ahead of its time, but either way, our cities are not filled with them. But that hasn’t stopped folks from trying to find the next problem-solving vehicle, and it hasn’t stopped us from being curious about their various attempts. And so – OZY’s favorite space-age picks for getting from point A to point B whilst keeping the mockery, price point, and hospital visits low.

RYNO RUNS WILD

We couldn’t resist the insane, on paper, genius of a one-wheeled electric motorcycle called the Ryno. Sometimes described as an electric unicycle or micro-cycle, the Ryno is well past the concept stage, well into production and is a sleek slice of action.

Able to go about 10 mph on a battery charge that could carry a 250-pounder about 10 miles, the Ryno is going to retail for about $5,295 which, at last check, was cheaper than some high-end bikes. Competing designer Daniel Kim of Silicon Valley has a prototype slated for production sometime in 2014 that he’s calling the Lit C-1. It’s essentially a two-wheeled motorcycle encased in a shell and balanced with gyroscopes, but its $24,000 price tag is bracing.

MIGHTY McLEAN MONOCYLE

Where the Ryno is practical and a 5 on the badass scale of badassedness, the McLean Monocycle is a solid 10 on the badass side of the swing, even if it’s only a 5 on the practical side of the scale.

The Monocycle – designed by someone we’d call a bad boy himself if he wasn’t so clearly The Man, Kerry McLean – in all of its Mad Max glory almost killed McLean in 2001 when it flipped out of control and put him in the hospital. Crawling back to the drawing board to make significant changes to the Monocycle, McLean acknowledges that his invention wasn’t built for everyone. In fact, special arrangements have to be made if you want to buy one. Right now? Outside of making appearances in Nokia commercials and major motion pictures (Men in Black being a most recent example), the McLean Monocycle is a stylish, if not entirely realistic, option for getting from here to there in something other than 4-wheel style.

THE NOT-QUITE-A-SEGWAY SEGWAY

Whether or not you believe the Segway is a failure (killing your owner might qualify as such) or a mismarketed piece of genius, it has not gone away.

Which is good for folks with a penchant for shop improvements. A France-based digital mag and mod shop company called Maxiscoot guessed that the Segway’s biggest problem was that it looked goofy. So grabbing the Segway by the handles, or the bull by the horns, they redesigned it to look like a Vespa. For $4,000, cheaper than an actual Segway, you can motor around looking a skosh less ridiculous than you ever would have on the Segway. It can go about 20 miles on a charge and is faster than the Ryno, cruising at 15 mph. And even if standing while cruising still feels a touch silly, this is an improvement on the Robocop-on-a-bender look of the Segway proper.

JET PACKING POWER

And finally, no discussion of futuristic travel would be complete without the dream that’s driven everyone from the Wright Brothers to Michelangelo: individual transport of the flying variety.

While Bell Labs and Wendell Moore (or Thomas Moore, depending on who you talk to) are widely cited as the first to develop a working jet pack, real credit should probably go to the Russian inventor Gory Robson who developed one back in 1919. Since then there’s been a rush of folks making good on his promise, from Powerhouse Productions’ “The Rocketman,” an entertainment only deal, to the Tecaeromex Rocket Belt made by OathKeeper Inc. going for $125,000, and ultimately to Jetpack International, whose $150,000 price tag is softened by their offer of at least 19 minutes of soaring individual flight (that’s from a standing take off to landing, versus JetMan which deploys from a plane like a parachuter). You don’t have to be Clarence Darrow to imagine all the lawsuits that could result from those same drivers you shake your head at as they cruise through stop signs switching to road-free airborne travel. Sky commuting could be a hornet’s nest of collisions and litigation, but it’s still nice to dream.

Which is what personal transport is all about anyway: the dream of travel possibility. A future of improved mass transit is still more practically envisioned on a plane or a train, but the promise of augmenting our individual abilities like some kind of modern, environmentally conscious superhero? Not going to go away.

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