September 10, 2018

What is Hyperloop? Here’s Everything You Need to Know About This New Transportation Technology

HyperloopIf you’ve never heard of Hyperloop, then the first thing that you need to know about it is that it is a vision of super-fast transport created by Elon Musk—an investor, engineer, and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. First suggested in 2012 by Musk, Hyperloop has attracted interest and investments from both the government and the private sector across the globe. Here is everything you need to know about Hyperloop.

Although he suggested Hyperloop as a new form of transportation in closed meetings with his partners and employees at Space X and Tesla, it wasn’t until 2013 that Elon Musk detailed engineering specifics related to the concept. In August of 2013, Musk produced a 58-page white paper that outlined his technical thinking for how the system would work.

In the white paper, Elon Musk described a futuristic transportation system that would send passenger pods through tubes at speeds of hundreds of miles an hour. At the time, the idea of actually building and operating a so-called ‘hyperloop’ seemed far-fetched, to say the least. Fast forward a few years and hyperloops no longer seem so hypothetical. In fact, a handful of firms and even some governments are now competing to develop the necessary technology.

The Hyperloop technology is once again in the limelight, just like it was in the early days of concept, after German students set a new record for the transport system in July this year. The Warr Hyperloop team from the Technical University of Munich, won the SpaceX hyperloop pod competition by designing and building a pod that achieved a top speed of 284mph (457kph). The students were competing against hundreds of other engineers at the annual contest, now in its third year, at the Space X headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

In addition to the above, the Abu Dhabi government is planning to have Hyperloop transportation technology operational in the City by 2020. The Abu Dhabi government has contracted Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), that will begin to build a track in the Abu Dhabi to have it operational by the 2020 deadline.

With so much interest around Hyperloop today, it would only be right to inform our readers what the Hyperloop technology is all about and what makes it different from other existing transportation systems today. So, let’s begin the discussion on Hyperloop.

What is Hyperloop

The brainchild of Tesla and Space X CEO Elon Musk, Hyperloop is a hi-tech, super-fast transport concept which envisages a train-like vehicle that can pass through near-vacuum tubes while levitating above a magnetic rail, a system referred to as Maglev. The lack of friction resulting from the vacuum environment and Maglev system means that the vehicle can reach far higher speeds than standard trains.

Seen by many as a revolution in the transportation system, Hyperloop is a new form of ground transport which could see passengers travelling at 700 miles per hour in floating pods with low-pressure tubes. Once it is up and running, the Hyperloop would consist of capsules transported at high speeds through the length of low pressure tubes that are elevated off the ground. Put simply, the pods would work like an air hockey table.

Supported on a cushion of air, the capsules can travel at average speeds of 600 mph, reaching a top speed of 760 mph. How fast is that? You can reach LA from San Francisco or London from Edinburgh in less than thirty minutes. Based on the very high-speed train (VHST) system proposed in 1972, which combines a magnetic levitation train and a low-pressure transit tube, Hyperloop evolves some of the original ideas of VHST, but also uses tunnels and pods or capsules to travel from one place to another.

Elon Musk has likened the Hyperloop to a vacuum tube system in a building used to move documents from place to place. Musk claims that he is too busy running Tesla and Space X to explore the Hyperloop concept, so he has made the technology ‘available to anyone who wants to develop it.’ Currently, there are two major companies working on the Hyperloop concept:  the California based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), and the Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hyperloop One.

What Makes Hyperloop Different from Other Transportation Systems

If you want compared Hyperloop with tradition rail, then there are two major differences. The first is that the pods carrying passengers travel through tubes or tunnels from which most of the air has been removed to reduce friction. This allows the pods to travel at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour. This is not possible with traditional rail.

The second difference between the two is that rather than using wheels like a train or a car, the pods are designed to float on air skis, using the same basic idea as an air hockey table, or using magnetic levitation to reduce friction. Today, a number of companies—including HTT and Virgin Hyperloop one, are working to turn the idea into a functioning commercial system.

According to CNBC, HTT has recently signed a deal with a Chinese government-owned transport company to build a test track in the province of Guizhou. On the other hand, Virgin Hyperloop One received an investment of $50 million from Richard Branson in December last year, which increased the company’s total funding to date to $295 million.

What are the potential benefits of the Hyperloop transport system? Supporters says that it could be cheaper and faster than train and car travel, and cheaper and less polluting than air travel. Moreover, they claim that Hyperloop system is cheaper to build than traditional high-speed rail. However, only time will tell how right they are!

by Bobby J Davidson

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