Hyperloop One – The Next in Transportation.

The transportation industry has been relatively dormant for the last few decades. Road transportation has been graced by the advent of electric vehicles. Air and rail transport, however, have had no significant breakthroughs. Hyperloop hopes to usher in the new age of road transportation. The brainchild of Elon Musk, Hyperloop is a super fast rail transportation system that aims to cut rail travel times significantly – by a factor of 7 in the United States. With the potential to travel at speeds of close to 700 miles per hour, the Hyperloop can cut the travel time between San Francisco and Los Angeles (a 350 mile journey) from a few hours to around 30 minutes.

History of the Hyperloop.

Elon Musk can be credited to the original idea of the Hyperloop. To summarize the concept in one line, he described the Hyperloop as a “cross between a Concorde, a rail gun and an air hockey table” in 2013. An early design of the system, created by Tesla and SpaceX engineers, was published to Tesla and SpaceX’s blog in 2013.

Eventually, Hyperloop One, an independent startup, was incorporated in 2014 in Los Angeles with an aim to make Musk’s vision a reality. In 2015, SpaceX announced the creation of a 1-mile long test track next to their Hawthrone facility. This track would be used to test designs submitted in the Hyperloop Pod Competition.

Features of the Hyperloop.

Musk brands the Hyperloop as the “fifth mode of transportation”. In essence, Hyperloop aims to offer rapid land-based transport (average speeds of 600 miles/hr; top speeds of 760 miles/hr). A few other touted features of the Hyperloop are its immunity to any kind of weather and its collision free service. However, the speed of the transport and the cheap fares  – the Hyperloop white paper suggests a price of $20 for a one way ticket between Los and San Francisco, a flight between the same destination costs a couple hundred dollars – are the biggest “features” of the Hyperloop system.

How does the Hyperloop work (theoretically)? 

The Hyperloop concept outlines a group of pods or capsule containers that travel through a tube maintained at a partial vacuum. The pods/capsules float above the track, thereby allowing the pods to reach speeds that are impossible to reach/sustain by/for wheels. The floatation is achieved by the use of magnetic levitation. An inlet fan and air compressor at the nose of the capsule would actively “transfer high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel“, thereby eliminating the possibility of air pressure slowing the vehicle down.

The elevated track for the Hyperloop along with solar panels lining the roof.

Proposed Hyperloop routes and timeline.

A Hyperloop transport system has been proposed for a number of cities across the world. The Los Angeles – San Francisco route, the Helsinki – Stockholm route and a number of routes in India are being explored and planned by Hyperloop One. Transpod, a Hyperloop company based in Canada, has also suggested the possibility of a route connecting Montreal and Toronto.

The World Metro Map designed by Mark Owen in 2003 is symbolic representative of a Hyperloop connected world.

The main question that comes to most people’s minds after reading about the Hyperloop is, “When can I ride in a Hyperloop pod?” – the answer to that simple question is complicated. To overcome all the technical shortcomings and valid criticism about the experience, Hyperloop would take atleast 2-3 years more to implemented – an overly optimistic estimate. However, the project would realistically take between 5-7 years to mature, be fully developed and implemented.

Positives and Negatives. 

On the surface the Hyperloop project seems to have some central positives that revolve around greatly reduced travel times and cheap fares. However, the Hyperloop does have some negatives. Environmentalists have argued that the Hyperloop is not energy-efficient and could cause noise pollution owing to its high-speed. Economists, on the other hand, have questioned the financial viability of such a project; high energy and manufacturing costs could be a major impediment to the Hyperloop project.

Overall, the Hyperloop is a promising piece of technology. If implemented correctly, it would bring about a drastic change in the way people travel and the way the global civilization works. It would also mark the first step towards supersonic travel, a concept that has been dormant since the retirement of the Concorde in April 2003.

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