Hyperloop pushes dream of low-cost futuristic transport

September 23, 2016
Chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc Bibop Gresta poses in front of a rendering of the Hyperloop technology, at Innotrans, the railway industry's largest trade fair, in Berlin, on September 20, 2016

Is it a plane, is it a train? No, say supporters of Hyperloop, a futuristic mode of transport floated by Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk that promises high-tech, high-speed and cheap travel over long distances.

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but developers insist their dream of passengers seated in pods shooting through a tube above the ground will become a reality by 2020—and change travel as we know it.

"We are not the train, we are not the car, we are not the plane," says Bibop Gresta, chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, one of several companies racing to build a prototype.

"It is a new mode of transportation," agrees Rob Lloyd, chief executive at competitor Hyperloop One.

Both men were at the European rail transport fair Innotrans in Berlin this week, sketching out their vision of a future where huge distances will be bridged in mere minutes.

Researchers have long dreamt of beating air resistance—drastically cutting the energy needed for high-speed transport—by moving vehicles through vacuum.

But it was Musk, the PayPal magnate who has made big bets on rocketry with SpaceX and electric vehicles with Tesla, who breathed new life into the idea in 2013 with a paper outlining a "fifth mode of transport" that would link Los Angeles and San Francisco by tube.

Dutch Minister for economic affairs Henk Kamp checks out the prototype during the unveiling of the Hyper Loop capsule from the Delft University of Technology in Delft, in June 2016

The cities are currently separated by five to six hours by road or one hour by plane—a trip Musk said could be cut to 30 minutes.

Busy with his other ventures, Musk offered the idea for free to companies interested in developing it.

Virtual reality

The Hyperloop hopefuls at the trade show paint a picture of passengers entering a capsule resembling nothing so much as a train carriage with virtual windows.

Once all are aboard, the capsule's electric engines propel it down a tube almost completely emptied of air, floating slightly off the floor thanks to magnetic levitation to further cut down on friction.

Travellers will feel forces similar to those experienced in a plane as the vehicle accelerates.

On its website, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) predicts its pods will travel at up to 1,220 kilometres per hour (760 mph)—around half as fast again as an airliner.

Visitors get a chance to inspect the inside of a Hyperloop tube during the first open air propulsion test at the Hyperloop One Test and Safety site in Las Vegas, Nevada, on May 11, 2016

For now though, the only way to get a sense of future Hyperloop journeys is with a virtual reality headset at the Innotrans booths belonging to HTT or Canadian start-up Transpod.

Via the goggles you can take a seat in a cabin lit by artificial sunlight with views of the outside on video screens.

The firms also offer videos giving an idea of what the tubes mounted on pylons will look like.

California-based Hyperloop One has carried out preliminary tests of its propulsion system in the Nevada desert, and plans to bring its project to market in "2020-2021", vows engineering chief Josh Giegel.

Transpod boss Sebastien Gendron says "our objective is that the product be ready for the market in 2020".

HTT says it will be ready in 2019.

Hyperloop, a futuristic mode of transport, was floated by Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk, promising high-tech, high-speed and cheap travel over long distances

Stockholm to Helsinki in 28 minutes

Gendron believes Hyperloop systems could change modern life dramatically, as there would be no need to live densely packed in cities like Paris to keep commuting times down.

With low prices—Hyperloop One suggests a 28-minute journey between Stockholm and Helsinki would cost just 25 euros ($28)—added to zero emissions and high levels of safety thanks to the automated capsules and shelter from the weather, the Hyperloop boasts many theoretical advantages.

Interest is growing in the business world, with France's national rail company SNCF recently investing in Hyperloop One, while graphite materials company Mersen signed a partnership with Transpod.

Hyperloop One has so far raised $130 million in funding, while Transpod says it will need around $150 million to develop its prototype.

Musk himself has estimated the final bill for a fully operational Hyperloop at several billion dollars.

"It's too early to say" whether Hyperloop will remain a shimmering dream consigned to the footnotes of history or become a breakthrough technology that changes our world, Alstom Transport CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge said at the Innotrans fair.

But HTT's Gresta is a believer.

"No doubt about it, Hyperloop is gonna be built," he said.

Explore further: MIT wins design competition for Elon Musk's Hyperloop

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21 comments

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rrrander
3.3 / 5 (7) Sep 23, 2016
Musk is a huckster and a liar. This kind of technology will never be cheap. Conventional subways cost more than $2 billion per MILE to build. Train travel costs more than air travel and one accident (which will kill everyone on board) and they will never allow this to continue.
Eikka
2.5 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2016
Musk is a huckster and a liar. This kind of technology will never be cheap. Conventional subways cost more than $2 billion per MILE to build. Train travel costs more than air travel and one accident (which will kill everyone on board) and they will never allow this to continue.


It's not actually him that's building it. The company is simply using his name for publicity.

With low prices—Hyperloop One suggests a 28-minute journey between Stockholm and Helsinki would cost just 25 euros ($28)


The only difficulty is that the route between the two cities involves crossing the Baltic Sea, and you'd have to bore a ~250 km long tunnel in the seabed. Even the Eurotunnel under the English channel is just 50 km long.

Even if you take a detour through Åland, you'd still have to bore more than 100 km under the sea to make a tunnel between Finland and Sweden. The next shorter crossing (~75km) through Umeå would make a 1,000 km loop.

So 25€ for the trip? Dream on.
Eikka
3 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2016
If the channel tunnel cost 5 billion pounds to dig, the Helsinki-Stockholm tunnel would be somewhere up from 25 billion, plus the hyperloop tubes and stations themselves.

There's less than two million people living in Helsinki and Stockholm combined. It would make absolutely no sense whatsoever to build a hyperloop track between them.

And getting commuters into the cities from further afield would simply cause more crowding and draw employment and services away from the more rural areas for the benefit of inner-city shopkeepers.
shavera
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2016
Why would they build it underground, the assumption in both the above posters' comments? Why bore a tunnel when you can just run an elevated tube, the design literally always presented for this technology?
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2016
Baffling, because it says right there in the article:
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but developers insist their dream of passengers seated in pods shooting through a tube above the ground will become a reality by 2020


Note the 'above the ground'.
(The background picture in the first image might also give a clue.)
krundoloss
3 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2016
On its website, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) predicts its pods will travel at up to 1,220 kilometres per hour (760 mph)—around half as fast again as an airliner.


That is a mistake, because Typical cruising air speed for long-distance commercial passenger flights is 475–500 knots (878–926 km/h; 546–575 mph). So the Hyperloop Pods would be going about 200 mph faster than commercial aircraft.

I think the key to this being successful, is some very, very good engineering, and perhaps an automated, cheaper way to construct it.
BartV
1 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2016
Great in concept. Low in reality.

krundoloss
5 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2016
I was incorrect, I should never comment before I have had my coffee. Its says "half as fast again as an airliner" which is correct.
Pooua
3 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2016
Thunderf00t on Youtube has some relevant criticisms of the Hyperloop concept. The problems are many, and no one has demonstrated solutions. For one, thermal expansion as the tube sets out in the sun, or contraction at night, makes the system unlikely to work at all, as the system requires pulling a high vacuum inside the tube. Also, what happens if there is a break in the line, or a car breaks down or stops between stations? How long can the passengers survive being sealed in a capsule inside a sealed tube?
rrrander
3 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2016
What people don't get is that alternative rail is hugely expensive. Toronto recently built a train system between the city core to the airport. The cost per trip was set at $70!! For a 20km trip. NO one used it. A private limo is the same price. So, they dropped it to $25 and some began to use it. But, the point is that they would not only need the traffic, but a $150 per trip in order to pay for the thing. A horrible economic debacle.
Andrew Palfreyman
5 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2016
L.A. - Vegas is the easiest and shortest planned route, so do that first to shake out the bugs.
humy
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2016
This kind of technology will never be cheap. Conventional subways cost more than $2 billion per MILE to build.


NO long distance technology is 'cheap'. What counts here is not so much the initial setup/capital costs but how well will it would pay for itself in the very long run once all the infrastructure for it is built compared with other forms of long distance travel; a question you and I don't yet know how to rationally answer.

Train travel costs more than air travel

That is often false. I remember once getting a train ticket for £10 --I assume any air travel would cost more than £10 ! ?
and one accident (which will kill everyone on board) and they will never allow this to continue.


I there have been many airplane crashes in the past that killed everyone on board. Did that mean "they will never allow this to continue"? Apparently not; we still have air travel. A mere one bad accident, or even a few, is very unlikely to put a stop to it.
Andrew Palfreyman
5 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2016
The Hyperloop: BUSTED!
https://www.youtu...esa01llk
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2016
Why would they build it underground, the assumption in both the above posters' comments? Why bore a tunnel when you can just run an elevated tube, the design literally always presented for this technology?


An elevated tunnel only works on land.

The Helsinki-Stockholm line would travel over sea, and even if it was submerged and moored to the bottom instead of dug under, an undersea vacuum tube 250 km long would be an unprecedented engineering challenge anyhow.

The above-ground tube has the problem of thermal expansion and wind load. The sun heats up the structure and makes it grow an inch one way, or the wind pushes it, or in winter the whole thing shrinks etc. etc. so each pylon can be randomly offset and everything is constantly shifting.

Suppose there's a pylon every 100 meters; as the pod travels 250 m/s and self-centers in the tube, it would be subjected to a rattling force at about 2.5 Hz and the whole thing can be quite uncomfortable for the passengers.
Eikka
1 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2016
For the last point, there's a similiar problem with modern high speed railways. To achieve the 200-400 km/h top speeds the tracks are bound down to concrete blocks and extremely straight and level, and where there are turns the railcars bank to keep the center of gravity between the tracks - as a result some people get seasick in the new trains. I know I do.

An airplane 50,000 ft up in the air doesn't have to mind a 2 ft drift one way or the other so it's smooth going. A pod in a tube can't afford to bang on the walls, so it's going to subject the passengers to some wild sideways accelerations to go just as fast.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2016
Elon Musk is the King of government subsidies. Everything he touches requires taxpayer funding in order to become economically feasible. No wonder he is the king of green !!!
humy
not rated yet Sep 25, 2016
The Hyperloop: BUSTED!
https://www.youtu...esa01llk

Oh. It sounds like they haven't thought any of this through esp thought about the basic physics and economics.
-and then there is the safety issue which seems to be MANY times worse for the hypoloop than with a normal high-speed train. Its a safety nightmare.
optical
Sep 25, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
mrlewish
not rated yet Sep 25, 2016
Sooo.. Why not just design airplanes to fly higher where the air is thinner so there is less resistance? Going up 20 thousand more feet from the current airliner cruise level would probably cut the resistance by 2/3.
Bogey
not rated yet Sep 25, 2016
To be honest, I think what this is really all about is to get other people to do the donkey work in developing and innovating a transport system for future off world projects which he also has in the pipe line/dream.
Probably where there is nearly already a vacuum, and your not fighting the existing infrastructure. Starting with a clean slate.
shimi
not rated yet Nov 20, 2016
Sooo.. Why not just design airplanes to fly higher where the air is thinner so there is less resistance? Going up 20 thousand more feet from the current airliner cruise level would probably cut the resistance by 2/3.


Jet engine need air, you'll need to switch to rocket engine.

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