Scientists, engineers, and inventors are constantly looking for ways to improve transportation methods. This includes making improvements to current modes of transport and designing new ways to get from one location to another. The areas they focus on are speed and efficiency, as people want to travel faster while using less energy and having less of an impact on the environment. One mode of transportation that is in development is the Hyperloop. So, what is the hyperloop and how close is this to becoming a reality? The Hyperloop is a mode of freight or passenger transportation that is a sealed system of tubes that allow a pod to travel through them at high speeds without any air friction or resistance, says Wikipedia. It is believed that this mode of transport has benefits over high-speed rail travel as it does not need a constant supply of power and the Hyperloop is potentially up to three times faster than rail travel.
This method of transport was previously called an atmospheric railway, and the concept first came to life more than a century ago, although it was not a commercial success and it differed greatly from the Hyperloops that engineers are now developing. Inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk is often credited as the first person to come up with the idea of what is now called the Hyperloop, despite the long history of the concept. He described his concept as a fifth mode of transport when he talked about his ideas at a PandoDaily event in California back in 2012. Then, his idea was simply hypothetical, and he wanted to create something that would travel at speed and had characteristics including low power consumption, long energy storage, collision-free, and immune to weather. Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, did not give any engineering specifics when he presented his concept publicly, but he released a 57-page white paper the following year that outlined his thoughts on how the system would work. This document identified that the two factors that needed removing were air resistance and friction, as it is these factors that slow a vehicle down. Initially, Musk’s idea was to do this by using air bearings.
His ideas have since developed and the use of air bearings is no longer part of the design. According to Digital Trends, he replaced the use of air bearings with planting magnetic propellers along the track that would propel the pods along the tube. The tubes would have a low-pressure environment, and this would create cushions of air around the pod as it travels to keep it moving safely at high speeds. Since Musk announced his concept, many others have jumped on the Hyperloop bandwagon. Therefore, it is no longer just the engineers at SpaceX and Tesla who are working on developing the world’s first Hyperloop. However, SpaceX is still some of the forerunners and they built a mile-long tunnel around their Hawthorne facility to test out their designs in 2015. As of 2019, this tunnel has been converted into a car tunnel. A team at MIT have also been working on developing the first Hyperloop since 2015, and they unveiled their pod prototype at the MIT Museum in 2016. Their design uses eddy current braking to stop the pod and electrodynamic suspension for levitation, so there are some differences between MIT’s model and that of SpaceX.
There are also a number of commercial companies that have joined the race to develop the first Hyperloop. One of these is Virgin, and Virgin Hyperloop One was founded in 2014 specifically to create a Hyperloop. There is a team of almost 300 people working on the development and the company has raised more than $160 million from investors who want to get involved with this technology. Virgin is now investigating the possibility of creating the Missouri Hyperloop, which would connect Columbia, Kansas City, and St. Louis. Virgin Hyperloop One also made a preliminary agreement with the Maharashtra State Government in India back in 2018 to build the Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop. Virgin Hyperloop One and MIT are not the only ones involved in developing this technology. Other companies who are currently working on a Hyperloop include Arrivo, Hardt Global Mobility, TransPod, DGWHyperloop, and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, amongst others. Each of these companies is at different stages in the development of their Hyperloops and there are variations in the designs, although the concept remains the same.
Wired highlights the fact that the actual creation of a Hyperloop system is not actually all that difficult, although it would take a large number of engineers and a small fortune to achieve. However, they note that there are still many issues that are preventing the concept becoming a reality. Creating such an infrastructure will require a lot of legal maneuvering for government and authorities to agree to a Hyperloop. The creators of such a system would also need to wrestle with regulations and gain a huge amount of political will in support of this mode of transportation. Furthermore, there is a need for the public to buy into this concept before it ever becomes a reality. There are also critics who say using the Hyperloop is a potentially frightening experience for passengers.
If these issues are overcome, there are already plans in place for Hyperloop locations. At this time, most of the plans are focused around locations within the United States. However, some of the other countries considering building a Hyperloop tunnel include France, Holland, North Korea, Mexico, Scotland, England, Russia, South Korea, Hungary, Norway, Canada, and the Czech Republic. According to ZD Net, Hyperloops could become a reality sooner than you would think. It is suggested that the first Hyperloop could be in operation as soon as 2021, although it is not known who will win the race to achieve this feat. However, it is likely that the Hyperloop will not become a regular mode of transport that is widely used for many years, and how soon you can ride one will depend on where you live.