Back in the summer of 2013, SpaceX’s Elon Musk suggested a new transport system that was equal parts tremendous and silly: The “Hyperloop”. The system, which would comprise of an above-ground vacuum tube, would be capable of getting people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 30 minutes. Unluckily, that was the extent of Musk’s involvement: He gave us his ideas in the form of a 57-page white paper, and then told the world to go ahead and construct it. Now, a group of 100-odd engineers have hooped together to try and really make a “Hyperloop” — and they seem to be making pretty concrete progress.
Back in September, following the announcement of Musk’s “Hyperloop” white paper, a company called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc was made. This isn’t your typical kind of company, though: They’re using a model/service called JumpStart Fund, where each worker is only paid if the company ever makes a profit. As a result, most of the employees are already at work at other companies, such as Boeing, NASA, and SpaceX — but on the side they do some moonlighting on the “Hyperloop” project, with the hope that there’s ultimately a huge pay-off. Wired reports that there’s about 100 engineers at present working on the “Hyperloop project”, and that it isn’t some all-inclusive club where everybody can join in: They overruled “100 or so” candidates, too. It’s kind of like crowdsourcing, but a bit selective.
Anyway, “Hyperloop” Transportation Technologies (HTT) has been honestly quiet over the past year — but now, it appears, they’re prepared to show their work so far:
There’s a lot of effort left to do, of course. So far, a lot of the work seems to have been completed by a group of 25 UCLA design and architecture students. The engineers — the ones who work at aerospace companies in the day — are employed on a technical feasibility study, which is due to be finalized by mid-2015.
Outside the technical probability of traveling just under the speed of sound (760 mph) in an elevated, above-ground tube, the HTT engineers are also spending a lot of time analysing the probable routes that the Hyperloop system might take. Musk desired San Francisco to Los Angeles, but administratively and geologically that might be tricky. In its place, HTT is also looking at the possibility of a Los Angeles to Las Vegas route — and, in the long term, a network of “Hyperloop” that span the whole of the United States. Eventually, they don’t really care where Hyperloop get made — they just want to make one, to prove it’s possible.
The engineers have proposed a tweak to Musk’s original capsule design, too: Instead of a capsule with doors that swing upwards, there’ll now be an inner “bubble” — and an outer, tougher shell that the bubble capsule is loaded into. The outer shell will be equipped with the air compressor, batteries, and other bits that are required for travel along the vacuum tube.
Moving forward, it’s now about really constructing some working models. The company’s CEO, Dirk Ahlborn, says they’ve mostly solved the problems of constructing the partially evacuated (soft vacuum) tube, and overhanging it on top of pylons. He also says that Musk’s price approximation of around $6-10 billion for a 400-mile “Hyperloop” is “on point,” judging by their study so far. “I have practically no doubt that once we are completed, once we know how we are going to make and it makes economic sense, that we will get the funds.”
Seemingly, once the whole technical feasibility report is finished in mid-2015, plans will be drawn up for the first short-range tube — and then, who knows? As urban people density continues to rise, we could surely do with a cost-effective substitution for high-speed rail and air travel.
This post was written by Usman Abrar. To contact the writer write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Facebook