Driverless cars. Artificial Intelligence. Supersonic transport. No longer the stuff of science fiction; Elon Musk’s Hyperloop concept is the next mode of transportation. The idea is simple: a cost and energy efficient mode of transportation that moves passengers and cargo using a pneumatic propulsion system. Imagine travelling from Stockholm to Helsinki in a matter of minutes rather than a matter of hours.
Though cost and energy efficient travel have been discussed for years, it wasn’t until 2013 that the idea of a Hyperloop system really began to take place.
What is Hyperloop?
A Hyperloop is a transport system which can travel up to 750mph. A futuristic transportation system, it is essential, a passenger and cargo-ready pneumatic system propelling pods through a tube at super speed.
The transport mode itself is a large tube with a low-pressure environment which hovers magnetically within a partial vacuum. This tube built over or under the ground is similar to the pneumatic tubes used to send mail between buildings.
How does Hyperloop work?
An environmentally friendly mode of transport, renewable energy is a key element. As an ecosystem, the Hyperloop tubes could be covered with solar panels as a way to retain energy. The Wind and geothermal energy could be used both along the tracks as well as the tubes as regenerative energy; the driving force of the Hyperloop.
By mounting an electric compressor fan to transfer high-pressure air from front to rear, it creates a low friction suspension system when traveling at super high speeds. Though it is possible for a battery to store enough energy to power the pod, it is best if the energy is not drawn from the battery pack itself. But instead, an external linear electric motor — or rather a round induction motor rolled flat. This would push the pod to high velocity and generate a reboot every 70 miles.
Changing the way we travel
Traffic delays, accidents, mechanical issues, and conflicting schedules make most of the today’s public transportation ineffective. These issues and more cost money and time. Some public transport systems are operating only because of government subsidies. But, the low-cost, high-speed Hyperloop system is set to revolutionise the way we travel. Imagine travelling to work in minutes rather than hours.
Not only could you work farther from home, but you could enjoy a movie or opera in a differ city and be back before bedtime. These are just a few of the advantages of the Hyperloop system. Other advantages include zero emissions, immunity to weather conditions, and high safety levels could change the way we work and live dramatically.
Inside the pod
Safety, high speed, and environmentally friendly are all great, but what will it be like for the passengers?
According to the Hyperloop companies, passengers will enter the pod as if they were stepping aboard a train. The only difference would be virtual windows. Once on board, electric engines will propel the pod down a tube nearly empty of air, floating above the floor by magnetic levitation. Though the Hyperloop travel speed estimate by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is about 760 mph, passengers will experience the feeling of a plane accelerating to take off.
Though tests are underway, future passengers can only experience a Hyperloop journey through virtual reality goggles. Through the goggles, passengers take a seat in the cabin and watch views of the outside roll by on video screens.
In keeping with the futuristic mantra, virtual reality will also be onboard the hyperloop once the models go into production. Imagine an immersive experience in which millions of LED lights combine on a huge screen to create images. Similarly, the walls of the hyperloop train capsule (or pod) would utilize an all-in-one cabling system to power and control the passenger display creating the illusion of outside scenery.
California-based Hyperloop One has begun testing its propulsion system in the Nevada desert. Their testing system, “DevLoop” is a full-scale test structure weighing over a thousand tons. One tube measures 3.3. meters in diameter while the full structure measures 500-meters. Having signed deals with a number of countries regarding feasibility in other locations, Hyperloop One hopes to bring their product to market around 2020-2021.
Like Hyperloop One, Transpod hopes to be ready for the market in 2020. But, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) says it will be ready in 2019. This isn’t the arms race; it’s the race to high speed, energy efficient transportation.
What will it cost?
Though the cost to travel on the Hyperloop is minimal; more than a bus ticket, but much less than an airplane, train or boat. Hyperloop One estimates it would cost about $28 (25 Euros) to travel between Helsinki and Stockholm.
To build the structures and capsules or pods is another story. But, with growing interest in the business world, several companies and governments have already begun partnerships with Hyperloop One and Transpod. Though both Hyperloop One and Transpod have raised over $100 million each for their prototypes, Musk estimates the final bill at several billion dollars.
However, Hyperloop technology is set to spark a business model which is cheaper than today’s high-speed train systems. In addition, its aim is to be cheaper to operate and maintain than most public transport systems today as well.
Tomorrow’s transportation today
No longer a pipe dream, testing has begun. Tomorrow’s transportation is here. Though researchers had long dreamt of energy efficient high-speed transport, it was Musk, who brought the idea back to life. In 2013, he wrote a two-part white paper outlining the fifth mode of transportation after cars, planes, trains, and boats. Busy with other things, Musk made his idea an open source concept. This has allowed other companies to improve upon and help develop it; HyperloopOne in California, Transpod, and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) in Europe.