Ever since Elon Musk envisioned the idea of a vacuum-tube supersonic transport system that could slash journey times from cities like London to Manchester to under 20 minutes, or Berlin to the Baltics from 9 hours by train to 90 minutes, Hyperloop has intrigued and puzzled in equal measure. Is a technology that he once described as a cross between Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table a reality or the ‘hype’ in Hyperloop?
The idea behind Hyperloop is to develop a technology for the transportation of passengers and goods inside capsules, which are transported in special vacuum-tube tunnels at speeds of up to 300 meters per second (or 1,080 kmh) in an environment of near zero air pressure.
In the last couple of weeks and months, a couple of developments have taken place that suggest a fully operational Hyperloop is no more than a few years away. Here’s why.
In July, Hyperloop One announced the successful completion of the world’s first full systems Hyperloop test in a vacuum environment. This test was Phase 1 of a multi-Phase program and was privately conducted on May 12, 2017 at the company’s test track, “DevLoop,” in the Nevada Desert. The vehicle coasted above the first portion of the track for 5.3 seconds using magnetic levitation and reached nearly 2Gs of acceleration, while achieving the Phase 1 target speed of 70mph. The company is now entering the next campaign of testing, which will target speeds of 250 mph.
Image – courtesy of Hyperloop One
As a guest of the UK Embassy and Department for International Trade in Tallinn for Futurism, more detail was provided about the letter of intent signed by Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas and executives of Hyperloop One around the Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel project. This is a new undersea tunnel proposed to be built across the Gulf of Finland. Spanning 92km-long and due to become operational between 2030 and 2035, it will provide reliable and rapid transportation between the two capital cities, offering a vital connection between Scandinavia and Central Europe.
At Futurism, it was announced that the infrastructure might be developed to accommodate not just rail, but also Hyperloop. This will enable the two systems to operate in parallel rather in competition, and provide an integrated offer that builds in the wider road, air and marine transport hubs. As transport is a long-term investment, this is to be welcomed and supported.
And finally, earlier this week, we were treated to a close-up of a Hyperloop pod by UK consultancy PriestmanGoode (who worked with my team for the DHL Blue Sky Transport Design competition) for HTT. It’s the original American research company formed using a crowd collaboration approach to develop a transportation system based on the Hyperloop concept.
HTT commissioned PriestmanGoode to produce a design vision, to ensure the passenger experience lies at the heart of the project. HTT is working with the leading composite fuselage manufacturer Carburets SA on the construction of the Hyperloop Passenger Capsule.
The designs will accommodate between 28-40 passengers, but the exact configuration of the Hyperloop capsules will vary depending on the needs of the individual carrier. The cabin interior will include large dynamic display virtual windows in the side panels and ceilings, to provide passenger information. It will also incorporate entrance areas, passenger accommodation for food and beverage services, as well as toilets (of course).
The potential to rebalance economies is interesting. Take the London-Manchester scenario. You could work in London yet choose to live hundreds of kilometres away. The real estate market could shift with it. Employment opportunities and recruitment pools could widen and deepen.
Hyperloop One talks about shaving hours off conventional journey times, and having no timetables because the system responds to the user. Think Taxify, the car hailing app launched in Estonia that has spread across Europe, Africa and the Middle East since it was founded in 2013. And Hyperloop won’t be a linear journey: you’ll be able to start at different points and move around the system just like the Tube. In theory, that means no bottlenecks and no lengthy check-ins. That’s the tantalising prospect – and if Hyperloop stays on schedule, services could start in as little as five years.