By Yonah Freemark
September 11, 2016
Mirror Train
Credit: Illustration by Matt Chase

Japan has long been at the forefront of transportation technology—for half a century, its bullet trains have whisked people between cities at up to 200 miles per hour.

Construction is now under way on the world’s fastest magnetic levitation line, the Chuo Shinkansen, which will float trains between Tokyo and Nagoya at more than 300 mph. The trip will take 40 minutes, compared with three hours or a similar-length Amtrak journey between Washington D.C., and New York City.

Though rail companies have long prioritized speed over aesthetics, Seibu Railway’s new Limited Express cars, coming in 2018, have upended that. They have chameleon-like aluminum skins that will blend with the landscape by mirroring it as they speed from the verdant valleys of Saitama Prefecture into Tokyo.

Japan is also a pioneer in fully automated vehicles. Self-driving buses will launch in the city of Chiba this year, shuttling up to 12 people on predefined paths. And for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, local company Robot Taxi plans to offer an Uber-like service of self-driving cabs between competition venues and attractions. A countrywide rollout will eventually follow.