Road trip to future travel      Video              Worksheet


When you're road-tripping down the coast with your friends, you might have your feet on the dash and music blaring through the car, but do you ever think about who made that journey possible in the first place? And no, I'm not talking about your parents who lent you the car.

The first ever car journey happened 130 years ago, and we've come a long way from that fateful outing. The mastermind and driver was Bertha Benz.

Bertha Benz loved engineering. In 1886, Bertha's husband Karl Benz (later of Mercedes Benz fame) took out the first patent ever on a motor vehicle. But it didn't sell.

While Karl was a brilliant engineer — he was also a perfectionist who didn't understand the benefits of test driving. He just worked on first principles, following his hunches.

Bertha Benz on the other hand was a lot more savvy about getting things done! She knew that the car needed to be road tested — and then, marketed. Otherwise their business of designing and selling cars would never get off the ground.

So at 5 am, on a fine day in August 1888, leaving Karl asleep and none the wiser, Bertha and her two teenage sons quietly snuck out of the house and hit the road.

She set off with her sons to see her mother who lived some 100 km away. She'd just invented the road trip — and in true road trip fashion, it was not a trouble-free drive.

There was no other choice but to use horse-and-carriage tracks. Remember, this was before there were roads for cars, or even petrol stations!

Speaking of petrol — that was the first problem Bertha faced. The car didn't even have petrol tank! It just had a carburetor with a very large float bowl — 4.5 litres.

Bertha had to drive from chemist to chemist, to buy their entire stock of benzene, for fuel. Back then, chemists stocked benzene as a clothes cleaner.

The road trip got messier. The engine didn't have an oil pump. So she just poured oil into the engine, which then ran through the engine, and onto the road.

There was no sealed radiator to cool the engine so she continually stopped to top up with more water.

The hand-operated wooden brakes didn't last long. So she found a cobbler, and got him to cover the wooden brake shoes with leather - inventing the world's first car brake linings!

She had to fix some wiring that had chafed through to bare metal by wrapping it in her garter belt. The fuel pipe became clogged, so she pulled it apart and poked it clean with her hat pin. She was a regular Bush Mechanic — before car mechanics even existed!

The car couldn't get up steep hills unless Bertha and her sons got out and pushed. (It was only a tiny single cylinder engine - roughly as powerful as your clothes iron!). One hill they came to was so steep that she needed two shepherds to push as well.

After her adventurous trip, she fed back to Karl that he needed to add a low speed gear, in a gearbox - advice that he took.

Despite the engineering problems, that journey got them incredible publicity. Soon car orders began flooding in. Within 10 years, they had the biggest car company in the world.

So Bertha set off driving a car in 1888, even though there were no roads or petrol stations. A century later, petrol stations were all over the world, and cars were everywhere!

So what's the next step? I think this will change back again. I reckon that by the year 2088, there will not be any stations selling petrol, because we will have stopped burning fossil fuels.

Air travel accounts for about 2-3% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and air travel is essential in our modern world. It's a huge industry, and each year, about 3.5 billion passenger trips are taken. So planes are one means of transport that's going to have to change.

To help with the greenhouse gas emissions maybe the jets of the future will have to use different fuel - most likely hydrogen, which unfortunately takes up more space. So planes would have to be bigger, but carry fewer passengers. This means a major rethink for the aeronautical industry.

We do have some big planes already. And this is where the heavy lifters — such as the Airbus 380 and Boeing 747 — come in. If these big planes were reconfigured to give over half of the passenger volume to the compressed hydrogen fuel, the aviation industry could continue to operate. And the only emission from the jet engine would be water.

It sounds like a big change, but these shifts have happened throughout our history.

Just like we transitioned from horse drawn carriages to cars, and from no petrol stations to petrol stations everywhere, we can expect things to change again.

Humans are creative and adaptive creatures. If we let our imagination take flight, anything is possible.