© 2022 Cincinnati Public Radio
Connecting You to a World of Ideas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

You may not be thinking how travel will change in 20 years, but these UC students are

VR students.jpg
Ann Thompson
Research Assistant Alejandro Lozano stands behind students Jimmy Tran and Kate Faas. They are designing futuristic vehicles collaboratively with VR headsets.

One idea has pod vehicles protecting you from the next pandemic. The pod could also transport you to a concert, while others communicate with you from their own pods, keeping everyone safe.

By 2040 experts say nearly half of all vehicles sold will be autonomous and of those, 20% will be shared.

With that in mind, University of Cincinnati design students are imagining the future of travel. Research Associate Alejandro Lozano Robledo oversees the Future Mobility Design Lab.

The assignment, called Autonomous Journey in 2040, challenged students to come up with transportation ideas that would work with smart cities, new materials, electricity and hyper-connectivity.

“The premise of the project was 20 years out, each student designed a mobility solution in one of four cities that I had them choose — Tokyo, Shanghai, New York, or Los Angeles,” says Lozano.

For third-year industrial design student Jimmy Tran, it was the Hex Pod in the age of another pandemic.

Inside your small vehicle, you could travel to a concert, gather with your friends — also in their Hex Pods — and talk without even getting out.

The design process is changing. Lozano says the old way of doing it was to have students create one-to-one replicas of their vehicles. But that's labor intensive and expensive, he says. The new way is every student wears a VR headset and collaborates with others to design the model virtually. UC’s partner is Gravity Sketch.

You can get an idea of how it’s done with this video.


Third-year industrial design student Kate Faas imagined a collaboration with Mazda and Nine Hours (a chain of capsule hotels in Tokyo). You would rent a very small enclosed space to sleep in. This vehicle wouldn't go inside the hotel; instead it would lift up and park on the side of the building.

There are no limits here, and the transportation industry is taking notice. Auto manufacturers could simply watch this virtual presentation and get ideas. UC plans to do more in the VR space. This fall it will open the Digital Futures building putting engineering, urban planning, architecture and more in the same space, harnessing the power of intellect and technologies.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.