June 10, 2016
Since America was founded, every century has been characterized by a new mode of transportation. Horse and sail ships were the only method in the 18th century. Years later in the 19th century, the railroad connected the frontier with the East Coast. Finally, automobiles and commercial air travel revolutionized the way we travel around our town, our country, and the world in the 20th century.
This century may well be shaped by the Hyperloop, which claims to be able to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco—a 350 mile journey—in a little over a half an hour. Even better, it will only cost about $30 a ticket.
What is the Hyperloop?
Some might say it resembles a train. Indeed it does run along a pre-determined track, but that’s where the similarities end. In fact, the Hyperloop is designed to travel within tubes, at vastly higher speeds, and with a significantly smaller environmental cost.
The plans call for reduced pressure air tubes to cut down on the friction between the air and the Hyperloop, and the movement of the vehicle will be powered by air compressors and induction motors. In operation, it will actually glide along these tracks on an air cushion within the tube to reach its destination. Projected speeds of the vehicle are staggering, even compared to commercial jets.
Hyperloop (LA to San Francisco) 350 Mile Journey:
- Average Speed: 600 mph
- Top Speed: 760 mph
- Trip Time: 35 Minutes
Commercial Airliner (LA to San Francisco) 350 Mile Journey:
- Average Speed: 500 mph
- Top Speed: 600 mph
- Trip Time: 1h 27min
The Market Landscape for the Hyperloop
As a testament to its viability, there are multiple developers racing to complete their own particular version of the Hyperloop. In 2013, Elon Musk published a white paper detailing his prototype designs for the vehicle, and then specifically and publically labeled it as open source—any developer can take his work, refine it, and advance the technology further without owing money to Musk. On several occasions, the billionaire investor has stated that between Tesla motors and SpaceX, he does not have time to take on another enormous project.
However, several other investors were happy to step up and meet the challenge.
- Hyperloop One: Hyperloop One, formerly named Hyperloop Technologies, was founded in June 2014 by a former rocket engineer at SpaceX, Brogan BamBrogan, and a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Shervin Pishevar. One recently launched a successful test reaching over 115 mph on an open air track.
- Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT): Several months before the launch of Hyperloop One, Dick Ahlborn launched HTT. Ahlborn is the co-founder of JumpStartFund, an online crowdsourcing platform and now CEO of HTT.
- Russia: Russian transportation officials are also working on their own version of the Hyperloop to connect Moscow to St. Petersburg, a 380 mile trek. Transportation Minister, Maxim Sokolov, claims that Russia is ready “as no other country is ready” for a project like this.
- Elon Musk: Though not actively conducting research on the project, Musk has promised to assist the few startups pursuing the idea. Musk intends to build a one mile long circular track in Texas for any developer to test their prototype on.
The Hyperloop on Mars
Musk and others have suggested that the Hyperloop would be a very effective mode of transportation once a colony on Mars was established. Because the atmosphere is very thin on Mars, it would not need to travel in tubes. The tracks on Mars could be open air, which would greatly reduce the cost of construction on foreign soil.
The Future of Shipping and Transportation
While the Hyperloop is poised to change the way we travel from city to city, it will also create drastic changes in the shipping industry. HTT and Hyperloop One are already turning their eyes to the sea. They envision tubes running underwater to ship merchandise across oceans in just a few hours.
The possibilities are truly endless, and while it is still a long way away from completion, the progress is encouraging.
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