Back in August 2013, long before Tesla unveiled its plans to offer autopilot features on every new car via over-the-air updates and even longer before Tesla unveiled its plans for its massive Gigafactory and its range of Tesla Energy static energy storage products, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] CEO Elon Musk introduced the world to the idea of the Hyperloop: a super-fast, brand-new type of mass-transit for the 21st century.
Unveiling his design in a preliminary technical paper called Hyperloop Alpha, Musk set out the idea for a transport system which used a series of partially-evacuated elevated cylindrical tubes, large enough for a specially-designed capsule to fit inside. Powered by solar panels set on top of the roof of the tube and set in motion by a linear electric motor set into the tube itself the capsules would travel on a cushion of air at speeds of up to 800 miles per hour, he theorised.
It would be a better, cheaper solution to the $60 billion+ Californian high-speed rail project being planned between Los Angeles and San Francisco, he argued, but admitted that his endeavours at SpaceX and Tesla Motors meant that he would not have time to pursue this project personally. Consequentially, Musk invited academics and investors alike to take up the challenge for themselves to turn the Hyperloop into a reality.
Now it’s happening. Back in January, Musk announced in his usual way that a Hyperloop test track would be built for companies and student teams to test out their Hyperloop pod designs, “most likely in Texas.” But as National Geographic reported last week, multiple companies now exist with the sole purpose of turning Musk’s vision into a reality — and one of them is ready to build a five-mile test-track in California.
Located alongside Interstate 5, construction on HTT’s track should be finished by 2017, with the five-mile stretch ready to accept passengers by 2018.
Enter Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), a company formed by JumpStarter Inc. CEO Dirk Ahlborn to specifically turn Elon Musk’s idea into reality. Not to be confused with Hyperloop Technologies — a completely separate firm following the same dream — HTT says it has secured the necessary agreements needed to break ground on a five-mile test track near the town of Quay Valley, California.
Located alongside Interstate 5, Ahlborn told National Geographic that construction on the track should be finished by 2017, with the five-mile stretch ready to accept passengers by 2018.
Although HTT’s system is based on Elon Musk’s own technical paper, using a partially-evacuated tube to provide a low-pressure environment for the pods to travel through, it has expanded on the original Hyperloop Alpha paper with its own 76-page white paper, which expands on Musk’s original concepts. It adds some additional proposals to the original idea, including adding large, 4-foot diameter wheels with a curved surface to each capsule to facilitate high-speed cornering.
Interestingly too, HTT, hints different pods could be programmed to offer different speeds and comfort levels, with freight, economy and first-class pods all available.
“Maybe in one capsule, people would like to feel the speed a bit more and then for the 80-year-0ld, it’s a little softer and slower,” Ahlborn told National Geographic.
Ultimately, HTT and its various rivals are aiming for a future where Hyperloop terminals link large parts of the U.S. together along hyper loop corridors, allowing people to travel between major cities as easily as they can fly on an aeroplane today. One day, Hyperloop technology may even join different continents, crossing the Pacific or Atlantic ocean as easily as someone may travel from California to New York.
One thing is clear: as long as these early prototypes function as planned and they can meet the low-operational costs promised by Musk and others, hyperloop is here to stay, because as a society, we need an alternative to expensive, carbon-intensive airline travel.
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