With petroleum deposits gradually drying up, researchers are in dire need of developing an alternate source of energy. Solar has been one of the widely accepted alternate sources and is now being used to power a large number of offices and household worldwide. Yet, it hasn’t been used in mass transportation so far.
This South African born Canadian-American business magnate and inventor plans to conceptualize a mode of transport that’s trying to solve most of our current day transportation problems. It uses solar power to transport passengers through a near vacuum tube in a cheap yet energy efficient way. He calls it the fifth mode of transport. Meet Elon Musk, and his brainchild, the Hyperloop.
What is Hyperloop?
Billionaire inventor Elon Musk proposed the initial concept of Hyperloop. He is the same man, who is behind leading electric car maker Tesla and aerospace firm SpaceX. Elon reveals that this concept of a new form a transportation cropped up in his mind while traveling in a congested Los Angeles road on the way to an important meeting. He later decided to name it as Hyperloop.
Hyperloop is based on the concept of accelerating and decelerating a linear electric motor with an electromagnetically levitating pod through low-pressure steel tubes at speeds of up to 1,000 kilometers per hour. The pod will carry both passengers and cargo. For acceleration of the pod, the system would deploy arrays of magnetic accelerators placed along the length of the tube. The pod will also use a motor to push air to the sides for developing an air cushion around it. It will help to stabilize the pod at high speeds thereby leading to improved passenger comfort. To combat air buildup in front of the Hyperloop pod, an air compressor would be present in the front of it to move the air from the front to the tail.
Why the need for Hyperloop?
Elon believes that his concept of Hyperloop would help spur interest in new forms of transportation. He regards Hyperloop as the fifth mode of transport. Currently, we use aircraft or helicopters, cars or buses, trains and ships as our main modes of mass transportation. Rockets can be deemed as yet another mode of transport, but most of us out there haven’t been on one yet. So, it’s safe to not consider it as a mode of mass transportation for humans and cargo.
The main challenge surrounding the development of any new mode of transport is keeping it economically viable. Still, a large chunk of the world population can’t afford traveling via air. Apart from that, in the fast-paced world we live in, the new mode of transport quintessentially needs to be quick. Hyperloop checks all the right boxes. Theoretically, it’s much cheaper than bullet trains. Elon believes that Hyperloop would cost one-tenth of the proposed cost of the Californian High-Speed Railway System.
How safe is Hyperloop?
Most importantly, Hyperloop is incredibly safe. Theoretically, the pods in an Hyperloop system can’t crash as it is immune to the wind, ice, fog, and rain. Furthermore, it eliminates human interference, thereby reducing chances of a crash even more. That said, in an unlikely event of a crash, the passengers would be suffering from oxygen deficiency. To combat that, the pods would be equipped with emergency oxygen mask just like the ones seen in airplanes. Apart from that, all pods will be equipped with reserve air supply for the safety of passengers during such mishap.
How fast is Hyperloop?
As per the Hyperloop Alpha concept published in 2013, a pod inside the near vacuum tube can travel at a top speed of 1,220 km/hour. The average speed of an Hyperloop system is expected to be around 970km/hour. This will make it faster than even airliners, which have a cruise airspeed of around 600km/hour. With such speed, you can travel from Mumbai to Ahmedabad in just 32 minutes.
Currently, even the fastest airline takes at least 75 minutes for traversing the same distance. The Hyperloop pods can travel at such a groundbreaking speed by nearly eliminating air resistance by using low-pressure tubes. Airplanes, on the other hand, have to cruise against immense air resistance; thereby resulting in a lower speed.
What is the Hyperloop Design Competition?
Unlike Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk isn’t directly involved in the development of Hyperloop transport system. Elon believes that his other two companies keep him too busy to find enough time for working on his own idea. So, he decided to patent the idea and outsourced its prototype and blueprints to enthusiastic students and startups worldwide.
Back in 2016, SpaceX announced an Hyperloop design competition to spur interests about this new mode of transport among bright minds spread across the world. Needless to say, the competition was a major hit with over 100 prototype pod designs being submitted. To facilitate the development of the pod, SpaceX built a one-mile test track in California. Out of the 100 prototype pods, 27 were selected for testing on the SpaceX Hyperloop track.
A team of graduate students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology was awarded the Best Overall Design award. In an interesting move, the MIT students used two arrays of neodymium magnet for keeping the pod afloat. Additional magnets were placed inside the pod to keep it stable as it gathers momentum. Most other Hyperloop prototypes relied on air jets to levitate the pod on its track. The pod developed by the MIT students was not just lightweight but also emphasized on security by including a fail-safe brake system.
With that said, this was far from the commercial design as it lacked space for both passengers and cargo. SpaceX Hyperloop competition was finally wrapped off in early 2017 with a team from Delft University, Netherlands taking home the top prize.
What are companies responsible for developing Commercial Hyperloop?
Apart from students, Hyperloop has succeeded in drawing the attention of businesspeople worldwide. Hyperloop One (formerly called Hyperloop Technologies) and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies raised their interests in developing a commercial Hyperloop system.
Hyperloop One was founded in 2014 by Shervin Pishevar and Brogan BamBrogan. Over the years it has built a team of over 280 engineers and technicians, besides raising $160 million capital from investors like GE Ventures and Sherpa Capital. One of the co-founders BamBrogan left the company along with three other engineers in 2016 to build a new Hyperloop company called Arrivo. Hyperloop One soon replaced him with former SpaceX engineer Josh Giegel.
Currently, Hyperloop One has a 75,000 square foot Innovation Campus in downtown LA. It has also completed a 500m development loop called DevLoop in North Las Vegas. In 2016, the company was the first to conduct a live trial of Hyperloop technology. It used a custom linear motors propelled by a sled from 0 to 180km/hour in just over one hour to demonstrate the technology. In future, this sled will be replaced by a pod. This initial test run didn’t involve demonstration of braking, as the sled was stopped at the end of the test track by a pile of sand.
Earlier this year, Hyperloop One carried out the first full-scale Hyperloop test. The test used all major variables that would be present in a commercial system including vacuum propulsion, levitation, sled, control system and a steel tube. The startup has now revealed images of its first generation prototype pod that will be used in its DevLop track in Nevada.
Hyperloop Transportation Technology is another company working closely in this space. The firm employs over 800 engineers around the world. Recently, it announced plans in collaboration with Abu Dhabi government to conduct a feasibility study on an Hyperloop link between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Some other companies working on a commercial Hyperloop system are TransPod, Arrivo, Hardt Global Mobility and Hyper Chariot.
What is Hyperloop One’s Vision for India?
Hyperloop One held a media briefing in the country earlier this year, in the presence of (then) Indian Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu. The company announced that it’s eagerly working on bringing its Hyperloop system to India. Shervin Pishevar, the co-founder, revealed that Hyperloop One plans to develop five high-speed corridors linking major cities of India.
Hyperloop One envisages a journey between Delhi –Mumbai, Bengaluru – Chennai, Bengaluru – Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai – Chennai and Bengaluru – Chennai in 55 minutes, 20 minutes, 41 minutes, 50 minutes and 20 minutes respectively. That said, these calculations are still based on a theoretical speed of Hyperloop pods. Besides, Hyperloop One would require a number of permissions from the Indian government in case it plans to set up its futuristic transport system in the country. Further, it will have to enter into a partnership with the public sector.
Apart from India, Hyperloop One has revealed plans to construct such high-speed corridors in the USA and Europe. It has revealed details of all proposed Hyperloop lines it plans to undertake across the world. These lines are however subject to feasibility and government approvals.
When shall we get to see Hyperloop in India?
Hyperloop may still be in its developing stages; but Naushad Omer, Business Development head Hyperloop One in India isn’t ready to shy away from giving a time frame for setting up the system in the country. Omar believes that India can have its first fully operational Hyperloop system by 2021. Globally, United Arab Emirates may be the first to get the Hyperloop. The first route could be ready as early as 2020.
Recently, Andhra Pradesh signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies in a bid to get India’s first Hyperloop. The state government plan to connect the cities of Vijayawada and Amaravati. A six-month study to identify the best possible route will begin from October 2017.