Elon Musk, the visionary thinker of the 21st century, explained the idea of the Hyperloop as a “cross between a Concord and a railgun and an air hockey table”. The concept of the Hyperloop is based on simple concepts in physics, like friction and air resistance, in order to create a mode of transportation that is insanely fast, accident free and sustainably powered.
How does the Hyperloop work? Hyperloop imagines the possibility of aerodynamic pressurised pods floating and travelling at high speeds in low pressure tubes. The pod never touches the tube - it just floats right in the centre - reducing, or perhaps eradicating friction entirely, enabling the pod to reach speeds of over 1220 km/h (760 mph). The pods are powered by linear induction motors and air compressors. Inside the pod, there will be multiple rows of seating, just like in aeroplanes.
How does the Hyperloop compare to other modes of transport? First and foremost, you are travelling at about twice the speed of an aeroplane, at least for short distances. It is also more than twice the speed of a Maglev, and more that four times as fast as an average train. At those speeds, 1. you’ll probably feel sick, and 2. it’s very risky infrastructure wise. The Hyperloop is extraordinary even as an engineering concept, but computerised simulations have proved that it’ll work. Other modes of transport will be far more comfortable, but not even close to as fast as the Hyperloop. Yes - Hyperloop is more about speed than about luxury.
Will we see it in the real world? Yes! A San Francisco to Los Angeles route is already proposed (and so is a Washington DC to New York route). But the bigger news is from the last few months. An informal team of about 100 engineers from SpaceX and Tesla Motors have come together to work on the Hyperloop. SpaceX, in June last year, announced that they will hold a pod competition. Over 120 teams have signed up. The concepts will first be discussed at Texas A&M University during the ANSYS (and Hyperloop Tech) Pod Design Weekend this on 29th and 30th of January. The finalists will get to test their model on a 1 mile test track SpaceX is building near their California campus. All progressions point to a possible design finalisation this year.
There are multiple companies? What about Musk? Although the initial idea was discussed my Musk, he is not involved with any of the Hyperloop related companies and activities. There are two separate companies working with the same (similar, actually) idea of the Hyperloop: Hyperloop Tech and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT). Of course, SpaceX is involved in pushing this idea, but will have no connection to the final hyperloop products. For now, it will be Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) who will work on the San Francisco to LA route.
How much work is left? Although we are taking about the Hyperloop breaking ground this year, we may not see it until as long as 2025. The concept sounds all “cool”, but is definitely a challenge to the brightest engineering students and professionals. Everything from the structure of the tube and the pod, the aerodynamics of the pod need to be perfect and safety levels must be high enough for human mobility.
That hopefully gave you a good idea about the possible future of transport technology. At 760 miles per hour, you’ll be replacing 2 hour long flights (plus the departure and arrival time constraints) with a 30 minute ride in a closed tube. Yes, it is “the closest thing to tele-transportation”, as said by COO of HTT, Bibop Gabriele Gresta.
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