Is this the future of transportation?

Is this the future of transportation?

The name “Hyperloop” immediately clicks the imagination into gear; the name itself sounds like something straight out of Hollywood’s latest intergalactic blockbuster. The brainchild of SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, Hyperloop One is a startup that’s testing a futuristic transportation system of the same name.

Initially proposed by Musk in 2013, the concept involves pods travelling through low-pressure tubes at up to 1,220 km/h, a speed that would take passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in roughly 30 minutes. Propulsion for the pod comes from linear induction motors which are not dissimilar to those used to provide thrust for rollercoasters.

While still a long way off mainstream implementation, the concept was given its most recent boost on May 11. In the middle of the Nevada Desert, Hyperloop One successfully shot a metal sled along a 900-metre track in a time of just 1.1 seconds. There is still a long way to go—the test was conducted in open air without the considerations of a low-pressure tube—but spirits were high following the success of the test.

Musk’s vision is to create “a mode of transportation that is incredibly fast, convenient and carbon-free”. The idea does not come without it’s obstacles, such as the difficulty of sending the pod around curves at such mind-blowing speeds. Spare a thought for the pilots of the old SR-71 Blackbird, who travelled at such a speed that they needed almost 150km to turn the aircraft at altitude.

After an agreement with landowners, Musk plans to build a test track of his own in California where SpaceX will conduct further test on the most promising prototypes of Hyperloop. The design of the pods themselves is open to a public competition held by SpaceX—students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology were the first to unveil a design, while other teams will be demonstrating their best efforts at SpaceX headquarters later in the year.

Originally, Musk forecasted a project cost of no higher than $6 billion for Hyperloop with an estimated price of only $20 for a one-way trip. While that it is all very much in development, many have suggested that the total budget for the project will dramatically increase.

Even though Hyperloop seems to be gaining traction, only time will tell whether we can expect Musk’s vision of such a fast, affordable and environmentally friendly transportation to become a reality.

Published 23 May, 2016
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