Wakanda, the fictional African nation in the heart of Black Panther at Marvel Studios, is a dazzling, technological utopia full of sci-fi contraptions and gadgets to make gears go gaga. However, what I did not expect, when I settled in the seat of my theater in Brooklyn last Saturday, was that the nervous transport parts of my brain tickled so deep. Black Panther is a transit diver's dream come true, with a variety of planes, trains and great cars, and just a hint of reality to ensure that these Afrofuturist dreams maintain some credibility. (Spoilers forward.)
Our first look at the Golden City, the capital of Wakanda, is when the Rey T & # 39; Challa blimp exceeds the holographic camouflage that keeps the nation hidden from meddling outsiders. High-rise skyscrapers, dotted with aerial gardens and parks, loom over low-rise commercial corridors where street life bustles. Vibranium-powered trams float in the trendy Steptown neighborhood, while a magnetic levitation train is seen in the distance, gliding along a raised track. Of course, this is not a hyperlink, since it lacks a vacuum sealed tube to travel through. But the transit system of the city is faster than most conventional trains, thanks to a very real technology.
Black Panther is a transit diver's dream come true
Black Panther explains that trains operate with magnetic levitation, or maglev, through a dialogue between Shuri, the inventive sister genius of T & # 39; Challa (Letitia Wright) and CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Halfway through the film, Freeman is driven underground into the heart of Wakanda's Vibranium mine, where the fictional element that feeds most of the nation's technological wonders is mined and transported along a subway train. maglev
Director Ryan Coogler, who grew up in Oakland, California, used the tormented Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains as inspiration for the Steptown tram, according to production designer Hannah Beachler in an interview with Wired. We can assume that Vibranium makes these trains exponentially more efficient than BART, which is fraught with financial and performance problems.
Image: Marvel Studios
Before the film's climactic battle over magnetic power tracks, Shuri explains that a network of "sonic shock absorbers" is used to absorb the vibrations of trains loaded with Vibranium, which allows them to be transported at such high speeds without the kinetic recession that Challa's Black Panther suit can also offer. It is a fictional technology that has also been used by the villain Ulysses Klaue, through a sonic cannon embedded in his robotic arm, which he uses to wreak havoc on the streets of South Korea.
In the real world, maglev trains are not as efficient as in the Black Panther world. The technology that supports the maglev exists since the 1960s, but we did not get our first maglev trains until the 1980s, and the first high-speed versions did not reach the 2000s.
The trains work using magnetic poles to repel and drive a train at incredible speeds. Thanks to a frictionless design, maglev trains go much faster than traditional ones, with much less turbulence on the road. The goal of hyperloop is to further eliminate the friction of the equation by propelling pods of electromagnetic power through an airless tube at theoretical speeds of up to 760 mph.
There is a reason why the American public is more likely to see these trains as science fiction than European or Asian audiences: while countries like Japan and Germany have magnetic levitation trains operating, technology has yet to reach North America. . The Japanese Chuo Shinkansen, for example, is the fastest train in the world and travels at a maximum speed of 375 mph. The country is expected to highlight its maglev trains during the 2020 Summer Olympics.
wow there's nothing like experiencing a technologically advanced Wakanda just to get back to reality and experience a broken ass transit system underground between stations that overheat without service @MTA is really remarkable wow # blessed- Jawn Valjawn (@jackiepayton) 19 February 2018
@wmata should send a delegation to Wakanda to verify its transit system: Rob (@why_its_rob) February 19, 2018
But despite decades of operation, the maglev has been a kind of disappointment. The traditional high-speed train is just as fast, it is cheaper to build and can be connected to existing rail systems, while the maglev guides do not. For countries with established rail networks, the billions of dollars to build a magnetic levitation system are difficult to justify.
But that has not stopped some cities from pursuing the dream of maglevica fever. A proposal to connect Washington, DC and Baltimore through a magnetic levitation train is gaining momentum, and officials recently decided on two possible routes that could reduce travel time from 45 minutes to just 15 minutes. Even so, the United States is not a benevolent monarchy like Wakanda, and the Trump administration's recent infrastructure proposal is mainly based on leveraging private dollars to pay for new roads and bridges that in the imposition of public works projects with money from the taxpayers Maglev without federal cash is a non-starter.
automobiles and aircraft operated by remote control through holographic cabins
The film addresses other distant transport ideas, such as cars and planes operated by remote control through holographic booths. The equivalent in the real world would be the military-level drones piloted from around the world, which have been in use since the mid-nineties. But the scene in which Black Panther rides a Lexus without a driver on the streets of South Korea, while his sister Shuri drives from a hologram powered by Vibranium in Wakanda, reminded me of something that was recently seen at CES. There, a company called Phantom Auto demonstrated the teleoperation technology that allows an engineer in Mountain View, California, to remotely drive a Lincoln MKZ through the streets of Las Vegas.
The experts in autonomous driving are not convinced that teleoperation is feasible, thanks to the latency problems that delay the delivery of data packets from one end of a wireless connection to another. Phantom Auto believes it has a solution, but most self-directed car designers have ruled out remote operation as unfeasible.
The hyperloop movement seems to offer the best possible path for people who wish to live their dreams of Wakandan in the United States. Virgin Hyperloop One is currently testing ultra-fast technology in the desert outside of Las Vegas, while Elon Musk has received tacit approval from regulators to begin exploring an underground hyperloop between New York City and Washington.
But Musk is more a Tony Stark guy than a T & # 39; Challa. And the only hint of Vibranium found on this side of the big screen is a press release from a financially questionable hyperloop company, which claims to have developed a new type of reinforced carbon fiber that bears the name of the mythical substance. It's a bit of magical thinking from a marketing department, but it still makes us feel very far away from this imaginary future.