Santa Monica, California in 2012 witnessed a historic, yet somewhat casual proposition of the ‘fifth’ mode of transport by maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk. Termed the ‘Hyperloop’, this system would eliminate a large amount of inefficiency with modern transport. It would be energy efficient, audaciously fast, and was not reliant on environmental conditions for its operation – rain, winter, storms were no bar here. Collisions were also thrown out the window with this proposed concept.
This utopian vision for transport is the Hyperloop.
Of course, this merited a lot of skeptical counter-arguments and doubts – but Hyperloop may fast become a reality, more tangible than you might think it to be.
Hyperloop has raised $160 million in strategic investments – their latest conquest being the DP World group in Dubai, who contributed a generous $50 million in the latest round. This is indicative of the faith people have in the proposed system, and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to revolutionize the industry.
Hyperloop promises to transport humans and cargo at a blinding speed of 750 miles an hour, traversing 350 miles in nearly 35 minutes. This easily eliminates concerns of logistics-based time, and promises to make several enterprises more efficient than they ever were before.
The Tech and the Hitch
The Hyperloop’s concept is hardly a new one. We’ve been envisaging evacuated tube-based transportation systems since the dawn of the steam engine. The use of high speed rails and vacuumed chambers has several problems, especially at velocities that make friction and air-resistance a problematic factor.
The more speed you wish for, the better the tech needs to be, and the more problems that need troubleshooting since travelling at that speed entails more dangerous variables than your average car.
The concept of the Hyperloop consists of capsules, or pods that are sent through steel tubes. These maintain a partial vacuum, and the pressure inside is 1 millibar. There is also a thin layer of air between the tube and the capsule, literally creating a floating bullet of sorts which is fired and glides during the journey, eliminating considerable powering costs.
The infrastructure and maintenance of the same is turning out to be quite pricey – estimates of $7-8 billion have been given for a route between LA and San Francisco. Maintaining those special conditions for the tube to travel at high speeds, while also ensuring that the tube doesn’t compress in on itself or suffer high-level gravity shocks is priority for engineers right now.
So who is working on this technology, to work on its hitches? Well, the on-demand nature of our economy has the answer.
Elon Musk and his subsidiaries also have a ton of other projects on their hands. The nature of the Hyperloop system is constantly evolving due to SpaceX and Musk declaring the project to be open-sourced.
Anyone with the capital, talent and vision can effectively work on this revolutionary system and improve upon it. To that effect, many companies have stepped forward for the task.
Hyperloop One is a company in this vein, and has more than a 100 engineers in its workforce, with a focus on building the LA-SF track. Shervin Pishewar, the founder and several other employees have working connections to Musk himself. From the information gleaned, Hyperloop One seems to be the closest in its capacity for making this dream a reality.
Other companies like Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) and Transpod are also committed to this endeavor, but estimate their progress to be slow, requiring as much as ten years for the prototype.
The interdisciplinary student population has also been harnessed in the speedy development of the concept. Not wanting young, innovative minds to go waste, the Hyperloop pod competition was declared in 2015, set to prototype designs by mid-late 2016, which is now pushed to January 2017. About 700 teams are said to have created designs that are to be built for this purpose.
On the 10th of October, the Hyperloop One team made great progress in Dubai, meeting with the Prime Minister of UAE and the crown prince for the Dubai Future Accelerators program, where this technology was highly lauded. With speed being the key to moving this project forward, the Future Accelerators project unites investors and entrepreneurs in order to get things done in a supportive, productive and result-oriented environment. All of this is done in order to address civic challenges, with transportation being a crucial one.
Hyperloop One was reportedly looking for transportation portals in the Middle East, with certain areas in the financial sector marked as ‘promising’ locations.
The company has also tested several prototypes in the Nevada desert, with the railcar flying at 110-120 miles per hour currently without any problems. Their method is deliberate and scales up indefinitely with each run, pushing the limits of speed while making continuous upgrades for the next testing stage. It is dynamic, and with the funding coming in, promises to be groundbreaking.
HyperLoop and Implications
Why are we tracking the Hyperloop’s development so intensely? Well, for starters, it’s a sci-fi revolution come alive. The implications for all logistics based businesses (which are currently on the rise) are huge. Amazon’s one day delivery may well become a one-hour affair. Waking in Bombay, lunching in Delhi and catching the late night show in Bengal may well be a reality. Getting to your loved ones and enabling faster access to services in general is all within the ambit of the Hyperloop.
The on-demand economy is heavily reliant on efficient technology to get things done. Minimizing risks: operational and environmental is a promise that Hyperloop makes which is extremely lucrative. Another desirable outcome is the energy consumption quota – with petrochemicals and other fuels getting scarcer, the Hyperloop may just be a long term investment for our planet in the realm of sustainability.
Hyperloop has the support of several governments and transportation partners around the globe. This includes Russia, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. With the full-scale prototype slotted to run in 2017, we wait with bated breath to see this figment of fiction (till date!) manifest and become reality.