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Land, sea and air: which machines are used for transport?

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All forms of transport involve technology. Modern technology has even made it possible to travel into space. Possibly the most important technological advancement of all time occurred over 5000 years ago. This was the invention of the wheel. Without the wheel modern transport would not exist. People and goods would not be able to be transported all over the world.

Advances in technology

There have been many important advances in technology that have changed the way we use transport. The invention of the internal combustion engine in the mid-1800s led to the development of cars, trucks, motorcycles and planes. Cars, trucks and trains then needed roads, railways, bridges and tunnels to be built. Other important developments include the invention of the jet engine, the widespread use of electricity for electric trains and trams and the use of cargo ships, oil tankers and semitrailers to carry freight.

Land transport

There are many machines that we use for transporting people and goods on land.

  • Cars: the first cars were developed in 1885 in Germany but became very popular in 1908 when Henry Ford invented the Model T car. Henry Ford developed mass production methods that made the car more affordable. By 1913, Ford's factory in Detroit in the United States could make a complete Model T car in 93 minutes and it sold for $500.
  • Buses or coaches: the first buses were horse-drawn but now they are now powered by petrol, diesel, gas or electricity. There are local buses to travel around cities and towns and there are also buses, called coaches, which travel long distances.
  • Trucks: trucks and semitrailers are used to transport most goods. In Australia, road trains are used to transport cattle or sheep or other goods. Road trains consist of several trailers being pulled by a diesel engine.
  • Trains, including light rail, electric trains, freight trains, monorails and magnetic levitated (maglev) trains. Maglev trains use powerful electromagnets that lift the train above or below the track. Other magnets propel and guide the train. Maglev trains can travel very fast as there is no friction between the tracks and the train. See image 1
  • Trams: the first trams, called streetcars or trolley cars, appeared in American cities in the 1830s. The first trams were horse-drawn but were later powered by electricity.
  • Motorcycles, including mini-bikes. The first successful motorbike was produced in 1897 and the first sidecar in 1903.
  • Bicycles: the first pedal bike was invented in 1863.
  • Skateboards, scooters, segways and roller skates are mainly used for pleasure and for travelling short distances.
  • There are also carts, coaches, buggies and other vehicles that are pulled by animals.

Water transport

A number of machines are used for transport on the ocean and waterways.

  • Ships, including cruise ships and steamships. Steamships began to take over from sailing ships in the 1850s. They are used to transport passengers and freight across the seas and waterways.
  • Paddle-steamers: these were mainly used to transport products along inland rivers. River transport declined from the 1880s but is still used in some areas today.
  • Ferries, including passenger ferries and car ferries.
  • Cargo ships, including container vessels, tankers and bulk carriers. These allow large amounts of freight to be transported across the ocean. The containers are large metal waterproof boxes which can be carried by train or semitrailer to the port. Oil and other liquids can be transported by ships called tankers.
  • Naval ships: are used to defend countries and in war.
  • Hydrofoils, hovercrafts and catamarans: mainly used to transport people.
  • Speed boats and other pleasure craft are used for water-skiing and fishing and so on.
  • Houseboats
  • Submarines: mainly used in the navy.
  • Boat-cars, such as the Aquada: a recent invention in 2003 that drives on both land and water. See image 2

Air transport

Many machines are used for transport through the air.

  • Passenger planes: after the first flights, people realised that air travel could be used for regular passenger services.
  • Freight planes: used for transporting goods quickly over long distances.
  • Fighter planes: used in the air force.
  • Hot-air balloons: aviation began in Australia in 1858 when William Deane flew over Melbourne in a hot air balloon.
  • Airships, sometimes called the zeppelin. These were primarily used before 1950 and were filled with hydrogen gas that weighs less than air, so they floated. They are no longer used to transport people.
  • Helicopters: these can fly straight up, forwards, backwards or hover in one place.
  • Sea-planes
  • Jump jets: these do not need a runway to take off and land. See image 3
  • Hang gliders and other gliders.
  • Spacecraft including rockets and the space shuttle. Space travel is a relatively new form of transport, which began in the 1960s.


There will continue to be technological advancements in transport. All sorts of things could be invented that will help us to move people or goods from one place to another. We may see different sources of energy, such as solar power, being more widely used in our transport. We may also see passenger flights to space or have our own car that flies through the air. What machines would you like to see invented?

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Question 1/5

1. What power did the very first trams use?

Solar power


Horse power

Human muscle power


No thanks. Remind me again later.