Transport and congestion are two of the biggest issues facing local councils and transport authorities around the globe. As cities become more expensive to live in, roads in regional centres are facing growing pressures from residents who need to make their way between their homes and larger cities each day.
Fighting congestion and travel times add a great deal of needless stress to those having to commute, and we’re certainly no stranger to that issue here in Australia—it is estimated that Sydney commuters face even longer journeys than those in America’s biggest cities. While widening roads and improving public transport are the catch cry for councillors and elected members who want to assure the public that they’re doing something, tech start-ups such as Hyperloop One and the likes of Elon Musk are imagining new ways to solve the transport issue.
Beginning in a Los Angeles garage in 2014, Hyperloop One have come a long way. Their now 200-strong team have partnered with local transport authorities in a number of major US cities, and in four other countries, to bring their dream of hyperspeed transport to life. First testing their new motor in 2016, their completed Nevada test track was revealed earlier this year, and they are hoping to conduct full-service trials as a result. So far so good, with trials of their full-sized test models, they are impressing keen onlookers like Elon Musk, near and far. Hyperloop’s European proposal alone intends to connect 75 million people, over 9 routes, across 44 cities, with high-speed, affordable transport.
The cornerstone of Hyperloop One’s technology is its low-pressure tube, which allows a capsule (or ‘pod’) to move through it with minimal friction, zero turbulence and at air-travel speeds. The pod levitates using magnets (maglev), and is propelled with an electric motor. Building upon Elon Musk’s original 2012 proposal (which was open-sourced and which encouraged teams to develop upon it), the team at Hyperloop One have built a passive magnetic levitation system (maglev) which should allow pods to reach speeds of many hundreds of kilometres per hour. The maglev technology and minimal friction mean that propelling capsules at high speeds requires far less energy than similar feats in air travel, for example.
Needless to say, there are some very technical design concepts involved—well beyond what we humble writers have the ability to explain adequately—suffice it to say that while the concept is simple (low pressure tunnels, magnets, electric motors), the execution is another matter (despite what Musk says, we think.)
Hyperloop One were the first group to put forward a detailed business case for a route between Helsinki and Stockholm, and have since gone on to broker deals with many US regions including Florida, Nevada, the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains. In fact, they’ve created a global challenge, to invite applicants to put forth a case for transport solutions in their areas.
“Advised by an international jury of leading experts in transport, technology, economics and innovation, Hyperloop One is seeking to collaborate with applicants who most powerfully make the case for how Hyperloop would not only transform passenger and cargo transport in their locations, but also how that Hyperloop transformation will drive economic growth, generate opportunities for development, and create radically new opportunities for people to live anywhere, work anywhere and be anywhere.”
The following routes are being considered by Hyperloop One’s transport experts:
Thanks to Musk’s Hyperloop competition, the open-source nature of the proposal and the incredible gains to be had (should the inherent risks be overcome) there is no small degree of competition to become the leader in Hyperloop transportation. University-based teams have competed for the highly-coveted title of best design, and are set to compete for fastest speed records in August 2017 on the specially-designed SpaceX test track.
While SpaceX has no affiliation with private Hyperloop companies, there is no shortage of them. Vying for the right to claim the first, fully-functioning, hyperloop transportation system are several key players. While Nanalyse notes that Hyperloop One are the team to watch, there are two other groups nipping at their heels.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
This crowd-funded group invites collaborators who have some cash to bring to the table, as well as expertise in areas which can help to bring the hyperspeed dream to life. Their unpaid engineers all assist with the project in exchange for stock options, and most hold down other full-time work in the meantime. They’ve already got an impressive array of regions partnered, including Korea’s Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) and Hanyang University, as well as agreements with Jakarta, Abu Dhabi and several eastern European nations. Their collaborative philosophy is at the heart of their project:
“Instead of just starting a company, what if we launched a movement? We are engineers and scientists and creators each with highly specialized backgrounds, from both the private and public sector. We have grown to over 800 professionals working across 38 countries.”
Canadian Transpod have big ambitions. Their plan hopes to see pods travel at nearly the speed of sound (up to 1200kph), a whopping 50% faster than aircraft. With a focus on affordable transport for passengers and cargo, with a reduced fossil fuels consumption, Transpod hope to have a prototype ready in the next 3 years.
“The TransPod hyperloop will serve both the passenger and cargo transportation markets, with a focus on countries challenged by aging infrastructure, high-density populations, and a need for transportation innovation. TransPod’s target market is the one-trillion-plus dollar global transportation sector with a first major project in Canada to connect major metropolitan areas.”
While Hyperloop One has strong connections with Elon Musk, and a lot more funding at their disposal, it’s clear that they’re not the only team to watch in the race to hyperspeed transport. No matter who reaches the goal first—and there seems little doubt that one of these groups will—the result will be cheaper transport, reduced energy consumption and ultimately less congested roads. Opening up affordable, quick transport for both passengers and cargo means a world of possibility in terms of economic potential, for any nation involved.