Beyond the hype of Hyperloop … from initial vision, to open sourced projects by companies around the world
February 14, 2019
We’re all familiar with the vision of the Hyperloop.
It started as a proposed new form of ultra-high speed passenger and/or freight train, based on the early open-sourced “vactrain” design by Elon Musk’s joint team from Tesla and SpaceX.
Drawing heavily from Robert Goddard’s original vactrain concept, they envisioned a hyperloop is a sealed tube or system of tubes through which a pod may travel free of air resistance or friction conveying people or objects at high speed while being very efficient.
Musk first mentioned that he was thinking about a concept for a “fifth mode of transport”, calling it the Hyperloop, in July 2012 at an event in Santa Monica. This hypothetical high-speed mode of transportation would have the following characteristics: immunity to weather, collision free, twice the speed of a plane, low power consumption, and energy storage for 24-hour operations. The name Hyperloop was chosen because it would go in a loop. Musk envisions the more advanced versions will be able to go at hypersonic speed. In May 2013, Musk likened the Hyperloop to a “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table”.
The concept of transportation of passengers in pneumatic tubes is not new. The first patent to transport goods in tubes was taken out in 1799 by the British mechanical engineer and inventor George Medhurst. In 1812, Medhurst wrote a book detailing his idea of transporting passengers and goods through air-tight tubes using air propulsion. In the early 1800s, there were other similar systems proposed or experimented with and were generally known as an atmospheric railway although this term is also used for systems where the propulsion is provided by a separate pneumatic tube to the train tunnel itself.
The Hyperloop Alpha concept was first published in August 2013, proposing and examining a route running from the Los Angeles region to the San Francisco Bay Area, roughly following the Interstate 5 corridor. The Hyperloop Genesis paper conceived of a hyperloop system that would propel passengers along the 350-mile (560 km) route at a speed of 760 mph (1,200 km/h), allowing for a travel time of 35 minutes, which is considerably faster than current rail or air travel times. Preliminary cost estimates for this LA–SF suggested route were included in the white paper—$6 billion for a passenger-only version, and US$7.5 billion for a somewhat larger-diameter version transporting passengers and vehicles—although transportation analysts had doubts that the system could be constructed on that budget; some analysts claimed that the Hyperloop would be several billion dollars overbudget, taking into consideration construction, development, and operation costs.
The Hyperloop concept has been explicitly “open-sourced” by Musk and SpaceX, and others have been encouraged to take the ideas and further develop them.
To that end, a few companies have been formed, and several interdisciplinary student-led teams are working to advance the technology. SpaceX built an approximately 1-mile-long (1.6 km) subscale track for its pod design competition at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Some experts are skeptical, saying that the proposals ignore the expenses and risks of developing the technology and that the idea is “completely impractical”. Claims have also been made that the Hyperloop is too susceptible to disruption from a power outage or terror attacks to be considered safe.
Key Hyperloop Players
- Virgin Hyperloop One
- Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT)
- Hardt Global Mobility
- The Boring Company
- Hyper Chariot/Zeleros
Virgin Hyperloop One
Virgin Hyperloop One (formerly Hyperloop One, and before that, Hyperloop Technologies) was incorporated in 2014 and has built a team of 28o people including engineers, technicians, welders, and machinists. It has raised more than US$160 million in capital from investors including DP World, Sherpa Capital, Formation 8, 137 Ventures, Caspian Venture Capital, Fast Digital, GE Ventures, and SNCF.
Hyperloop One was founded by Shervin Pishevar and Brogan BamBrogan. BamBrogan left the company in July 2016, along with three of the other founding members of Arrivo. Hyperloop One then selected Josh Giegel, a former SpaceX engineer, to be a co-founder. Hyperloop One has a 75,000-square foot Innovation Campus in downtown LA and a 100,000-square foot machine and tooling shop in North Las Vegas. By 2017, it had completed a 500m Development Loop (DevLoop) in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
In May 2017, Hyperloop One performed its first full-scale Hyperloop test, becoming the first company in the world to test a full-scale Hyperloop. The system-wide test integrated Hyperloop components including vacuum, propulsion, levitation, sled, control systems, tube, and structures. Soon after, the company revealed images of its first generation pod prototype, which will be used at the DevLoop test site in Nevada to test aerodynamics. The company received a “significant investment” from the Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, leading to a rebrand of the name.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
HTT was a group of more than 800 engineers and professionals located around the world. Some collaborate part-time; others are full-time employees and contributors. HTT announced in May 2015 that a deal had been finalized with landowners to build a 5-mile (8 km) test track along a stretch of road near Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In December 2016, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and the government of Abu Dhabi announced plans to conduct a feasibility study on a Hyperloop link between the UAE capital and Al Ain, reducing travel time between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain to just under 10-minutes. In September 2017, HTT announced and signed an agreement with the Andhra Pradesh government to build a track from Amaravathi to Vijayawada in a public-private partnership, and suggested that the more than one hour trip could be reduced to 5 minutes through the project. For yet undisclosed reason, neither the test track that HTT announced in May 2015 nor any other test track has been built in the last 3 years.
TransPod Inc. is a Canadian company designing and manufacturing ultra-high-speed tube transportation technology and vehicles. In November 2016 TransPod raised a $15 million USD seed round from Angelo Investments, an Italian high-tech holding group, specializing in advanced technologies for the railway, space, and aviation industries.
TransPod vehicles are being designed to travel at over 1,000 km/h between cities using fully electric propulsion and zero need for fossil fuels.The TransPod tube system is distinct from the hyperloop concept proposed by Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Alpha white paper. The TransPod system uses moving electromagnetic fields to propel the vehicles with stable levitation off the bottom surface, rather than compressed air. TransPod is stated to contain further developments beyond hyperloop. To achieve fossil-fuel-free propulsion, TransPod “pods” take advantage of electrically-driven linear induction motor technology, with active real-time control and sense-space systems. The cargo transport TransPod pods will be able to carry payloads of 10–15 tons and have compatibility with wooden pallets, as well as various unit load devices such as LD3 containers, and AAA containers.
Major Hyperloop Projects
- Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop Route – Virgin Hyperloop One
- Helsinki-Stockholm Hyperloop Route – Virgin Hyperloop One
- The Missouri Hyperloop – Virgin Hyperloop One
- Dubai- Abu Dhabi Hyperloop Route – Virgin Hyperloop One
- Bratislava-Budapest Hyperloop Route – HTT
- Vijayawada-Amaravati-Anantapur Hyperloop Route – HTT
- Cargo Transportation – DP World Cargospeed
The route suggested in the 2013 alpha-level design document was from the Greater Los Angeles Area to the San Francisco Bay Area. That conceptual system would begin around Sylmar, just south of the Tejon Pass, follow Interstate 5 to the north, and arrive near Hayward on the east side of San Francisco Bay. Several proposed branches were also shown in the design document. No work has been done on the route.
In November, 2017, Arrivo announced a plan for a maglev automobile transport system from Aurora, Colorado to Denver International Airport, the first leg of a system from downtown Denver. Its contract describes completion of the first leg in 2021. In February 2018, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies announced a similar plan for a loop connecting Chicago and Cleveland and a loop connecting Washington and New York City.
On 19 Dec 2018, Elon Musk unveiled a 3 km tunnel below Los Angeles. In the presentation, a Tesla Model X drove on the predefined track. According to Musk the costs for the system are 10 million USD.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies are in process to sign a Letter of Intent with the Indian Government for a proposed route between Chennai and Bengaluru. If things go as planned, the distance of 345 km could be covered in 30 minutes. HTT also signed an agreement with Andhra Pradesh government to build India’s first Hyperloop project connecting Amaravathi to Vijayawada in a 6-minute ride.
On February 22, 2018, Hyperloop One has entered into a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the Government of Maharashtra to build a hyperloop transportation system between Mumbai and Pune that would cut the travel time from the current 180 minutes to just 20 minutes.
Hyperloop One published the world’s first detailed business case for a 300-mile (500 km) route between Helsinki and Stockholm, which would tunnel under the Baltic Sea to connect the two capitals in under 30 minutes. Hyperloop One is also working on passenger routes in Moscow and a cargo Hyperloop to connect Hunchun in north-eastern China to the Port of Zarubino, near Vladivostok and the North Korean border on Russia’s Far East. Others have put forward European routes, including a Paris to Amsterdam route proposed by Delft Hyperloop. A Warsaw University of Technology team is evaluating potential routes from Kracow to Gdańsk across Poland proposed by Hyper Poland.
Hyperloop One is also well underway on a feasibility study with DP World to move containers from its Port of Jebel Ali in Dubai. Hyperloop One on November 8, 2016, announced a new feasibility study with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority for passenger and freight routes connecting Dubai with the greater United Arab Emirates.
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