Urban Transport

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop takes a step closer to reality

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop takes a ...
HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in action
HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in action
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HTT's proposed Hyperloop routes throughout the US
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HTT's proposed Hyperloop routes throughout the US
HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in action
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HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in action
Location of HTT's global team of engineers and designers
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Location of HTT's global team of engineers and designers
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HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in downtown Los Angeles
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HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in downtown Los Angeles
HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop alongside freeway traffic in Los Angeles
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HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop alongside freeway traffic in Los Angeles
HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in Las Vegas
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HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in Las Vegas
HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop passing by Las Vegas casino hotels
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HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop passing by Las Vegas casino hotels
Model of the proposed Hyperloop tube built by HTT's team
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Model of the proposed Hyperloop tube built by HTT's team
Miniature wood model of the Hyperloop with passenger
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Miniature wood model of the Hyperloop with passenger
Model of the proposed Hyperloop tube built by HTT's team
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Model of the proposed Hyperloop tube built by HTT's team
HTT's founder Dirk Ahlborn
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HTT's founder Dirk Ahlborn

It seemed like a pipe dream when floated in 2013 by Tesla and SpaceX founder/CEO Elon Musk, but the Hyperloop concept is making tangible progress, though it is still a long way off taking passengers. A startup company called Hyperloop Technologies has been established, with US$8.5 million raised and another $80 million in funds projected for later this year. Meanwhile, another startup called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), formed in 2013, has crowdfunded and crowdsourced its way to a team of 170 mostly part-time engineers and designers.

While the work of the two companies is still on paper, or in the bank, actual physical construction may be coming from Musk himself, who last month pledged to build a test track in Texas for groups to work on Hyperloop prototypes. It would mark Musk’s first foray back into the futuristic travel system since releasing a 57-page white paper detailing the Hyperloop concept in August of 2013. Soon after that event, he and his Tesla and SpaceX engineers who helped create the paper, turned their attention back to making cars and building rockets.

But picking up the Hyperloop baton was Dirk Ahlborn, an entrepreneur who had just launched his crowdfunding site JumpStartFund, forming HTT soon after, in part to bring attention to his site. HTT has slowly built up a global team of employees working for equity, with moonlighters from companies like Boeing, Airbus and NASA.

HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in downtown Los Angeles
HTT's rendering of the proposed Hyperloop in downtown Los Angeles

The group’s effort has so far resulted in the creation of a 76-page crowdstorming document that details its own plans for the Hyperloop system. From optimal routes, station types, capsule aerodynamics and seating arrangements, to propulsion, safety, and cost, the document covers nearly all the bases for such a fantastical system. HTT delves deeper than Musk’s original white paper, which Ahlborn told Gizmag was “only a top level design. Many parts like the capsule geometry, etc, had to be revised."

Among the ways HTT’s document departs from Musk’s includes routes other than the originally proposed 30-minute, 380-mile (610-km) ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This is because rights-of-way issues for both cities would push stations as far as an hour away from their centers, while a path as straight and level as possible on land not prone to earthquakes would reduce safety issues and g-force induced nausea.

A group of UCLA students from the school’s Sprastudio design and architecture program is collaborating with HTT and working on potential routes (as well as station and pod design) that optimize speed and comfort. Using an algorithm that accounts for geography, buildings and roads, the group has mapped potential routes throughout the US. The Los Angeles to Las Vegas route stands out, while Ahlborn is not averse to exploring the possibility of systems in Europe or Asia. Another option are proposed mini-Hyperloops, for shorter routes into and around cities.

HTT's proposed Hyperloop routes throughout the US
HTT's proposed Hyperloop routes throughout the US

Looking ahead, Ahlborn says, "we have outlined the technology and are quantifying the needed capital to build the prototype." But taking the project from concept to physical is more than lining up billion dollar investors for the conservative estimate of $45.3 million per mile of track needed. HTT’s report acknowledges that, “For sure one of the most challenging areas, the team is still uncertain about the best way to create prototypes that allows to test all necessary components.”

But the fact that other players are entering the fray is an encouraging sign for the future of the Hyperloop. Especially one as well-backed as Hyperloop Technologies, which includes Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-prize, Brogan BamBrogan, a key engineer at SpaceX, and Joe Messina, former White House deputy chief of staff. Instead of passengers, the company has chosen to initially focus on transporting cargo at near supersonic speeds.

Despite Musk’s lack of ongoing involvement with the Hyperloop, his name alone lends enormous cache to the fanciful concept. And his Texas test track would be another boon to the fledgling industry. “It eventually reduces the needed capital amount that we need to raise for the prototype,” Ahlborn says, in reference to the track. “We are excited about him supporting the community that has formed to make his idea reality.”

Sources: Hyperloop Technologies, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

28 comments
Lumpy
Absurd idea. It will never happen. we cant even maintain the regular rails. I love Elon but he needs to drop this stupid idea.
Mark A
Will it have WiFi?
u-day
I am thinking if this technology will connect all of humanity fast and cheap, rather than to be reliant on fossil fuels.
Martin Winlow
@ Lumpy - Why is it any more absurd than any other modern technological feat- space travel, crazy-tall buildings, etc, etc? The article's projected track cost seems a long way off to me when you consider a 6 lane motorway costs about £5m per mile to build. The HL track is just a big steel tube on (not very tall) concrete towers - might not even need the towers for a lot of the track. MW
Freyr Gunnar
Don't you love the wind turbine in the background? http://images.gizmag.com/hero/hyperloop-transportation.jpg Is the train supposed to run only when the wind blows?
Odin Thorleifsson
Reply to Freyr Gunnar: In the image one can spot solar panels on top of the tube. Anyway new methods of harvesting green fluctuating power flow more efficient are under development. This will transform green energy to a reliable compatible energy source.
Robert Fallin
Musk's engineers for Hyperloop are building this white elephant on false premises; and I told them so. Their arguments against using a vacuum maglev system assumes leaks because of the long lengths of tubes and connection points. My HYPERTUBE system envisions airlocks in 89 foot tube sections, with multiple vacuum pumps to supply the sections. Instead of multiple connection points, switching centers similar to railroad roundhouses would provide directional changes for the capsules. Since these switching centers would be evacuated, there would be no leaks between connection points. As was requested by the Hyperloop white paper paper, I submitted to the Hyperloop engineers at SpaceX and was ignored. Passenger terminals in my HYPERTUBE system are small enough and inexpensive enough to be built in ANY neighborhood anywhere in the world; and with the use of bi-directional tubes, such a system could be built for less than half the cost per mile of a four lane divided highway, operate continuous at speeds of up to 4,000 mph and would not require major repairs for at least 200 years.
Stephen N Russell
Love it, maybe get Gov Brown CA to fund this vs his HSRR plan alone Love the mini Hyperloop for So CA IE Malibu to Palm Springs or Palm Springs to Dwtn LA Union Station or Glendale to Chino etc, awesome.
dr.kerrysmith
Great idea, BUT: would you strap into a tight windowless capsule and be subjected to accelerations in all 3 axes for hours, with no chance of getting out if you feel sick? This is like Space Mountain on steroids.
Nathan Nelson Alder
The idea seems very similar to the Swissmetro Project, an idea to connect the swiss country (and europe) with an underground magnetic railway in low-pressure tunnels.