When we first heard about Hyperloop, it seemed to be something pulled right out of The Star Trek series. So unreal and futuristic is the idea that one cannot easily wrap their minds around the possible existence of such a technology. Imagine going from Melbourne to Sydney in an airplane- you have at least 5 hours of your time to kill. Now imagine transiting with a Hyperloop pod- you would be reaching your destination in just 55 minutes. Yes, that’s right! Just a fifth of the time required by an airplane. No wonder it has caught the world’s attention.
The basic idea of this eye-catching tech is actually simple- A pod, containing passengers or cargo, travels at very high speeds using magnetic levitation in a tunnel with partial vacuum. This pod will be driven using electric motors. Not to forget that it will be a super-fast super-efficient way of transport at our disposal.
The idea is a brainchild of none other than Elon Musk. He first mentioned it as the ‘fifth mode’ of transport at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica, California. He described it as a mode of transportation with the following characteristics- weather immune, collision free, low power consumption, twice as fast as plane and energy storage for 24-hr operations. According to SpaceX’s initial calculations, an advanced system of Hyperloop network for California will cost just about $7.5 bn as opposed to the proposed high speed rail project costing a whopping $68 bn. Musk went further to describe it as a cross between – ‘Concorde, rail-gun and an air hockey table’.
Its specialities would also include its ability to clock 700 mph with ease. An extra bonus for the promoters is its predicted low transport cost. However, there will have to be some practical considerations as achieving such high speeds in short times would require huge acceleration and the G forces associated with these are likely to affect our body adversely.
The idea seemed so revolutionary that engineers from both Tesla and SpaceX started working on its design. On August 13, an early system design was published on the blogs of both SpaceX and Tesla. Musk also appealed to the general public to go through them and point out any shortcomings as well and encouraged the general masses to work on them. He intended to take it as an open-source idea for the general public.
So what about its business potential? The start of such a beast of a venture would have to be slow. It would be heavy on the pockets too. A huge amount of time and money would be engaged to actually make it work. But its potential has resulted in many startups being built around this very idea. One of them is particularly noteworthy- Hyperloop One. Initially, Hyperloop Technologies managed to raise a sum of $160mn and grow in size with about 200 people on board. Shervin Pishevar, co-founder and executive chairman of Hyperloop One, predicts this revolutionary tech to be functional somewhere around 2020. The company aims to shuttle passengers as well as cargo at these high speed through specially designed pods which would be as frequent as one every 10 seconds. It is expected that a passenger can get from LA to San Francisco in as little as $30 – compared to the $100 plane ticket.
To make a financially successful startup out of this is surely nothing less of a humongous task. The sheer amount of money required for the seed funding is surely its greatest hurdle. However, as a respite to various student startups in this sector, SpaceX has announced that they would sponsor a student Hyperloop pod design competition and would even build a 1 mile long testing track for the same. Regardless of all such difficulties, one must keep in mind that this is a tech that actually buys people time- possibly the most valuable commodity anyone can possess. That’s why it is believed strongly that Hyperloop is the future.