Hyperloop: The Next Generation of Travel

Image: Hyperloop / Tesla Motors.

Image: Hyperloop / Tesla Motors.

Off the top of your head, what is the fastest roller coaster in the world?

Dodonpa in Japan's Fuji-Q Highland? Top Thrill Dragster in Cedar Point? Or maybe Kingda Ka in Six Flags Great Adventure?

Sorry, but the fastest roller coaster in the world is Formula Rossa in Ferrari World, located in the United Arab Emirates, which travels at a blistering 149 miles per hour.

And yet, even it pales in comparison to the Hyperloop, the next generation of transportation technology, which has projected speeds of over 760 miles per hour, roughly five times faster than Formula Rossa.

In August 2013, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, released a 57 page report on the concept of a possible fifth mode of transportation, calling it the Hyperloop. This system operates by sending pods through an elevated steel tube maintained at a partial vacuum, which reduces the amount of air resistance. Each pod floats on a thin cushion of air, similar to how pucks are suspended on an air hockey table. Solar-powered, linear induction motors located at specific intervals inside the tube accelerate or decelerate the pod, maintaining the appropriate speed based on which area of the tube the pod is traveling.

Design sketches of Elon Musk's proposed Hyperloop high-speed tube transport system. (Image: SpaceX)

Design sketches of Elon Musk's proposed Hyperloop high-speed tube transport system. (Image: SpaceX)

In the front of each pod, there is an electronically driven fan and an air compressor. These devices move high pressure air from the front of the pod to the back, as well as divert some of the air to the air-bearing skis, which augment the air cushion beneath the pod. The batteries that power the fan and the air compressor are stored in the rear of the pod while the middle of the pod allows space for passengers or freight cargo.

Despite creating the concept, Elon Musk has made no plans to work on the Hyperloop project, due to his involvement with SpaceX and Tesla Motors. Instead, Musk has opted to open source the project and allow anyone to send in ideas or offer feedback.

Cutaway view of a Hyperloop capsule full of passengers moving through the transport tube. (Image: Hyperloop / Tesla Motors)

Cutaway view of a Hyperloop capsule full of passengers moving through the transport tube. (Image: Hyperloop / Tesla Motors)

To further develop the project, SpaceX has created the Hyperloop Pod Competition. The competition encourages university students and independent engineering teams around the world to submit ideas on the design of the pods. SpaceX also has plans for the construction of a sub-scale Hyperloop test track near its headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The track will allow the participants of the contest to test their designs in June 2016.

SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition

In addition to university students and independent engineers, two private companies actively began working on their own visions of the Hyperloop system: Hyperloop Technologies and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

Hyperloop Technologies was co-founded by a close friend of Musk's, Shervin Pishevar. The CEO, Brogan Bambrogan, is a former SpaceX engineer and plans to go beyond Musk's initial vision by building a Hyperloop for transporting freight cargo from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

(Image: Forbes) 

(Image: Forbes

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), on the other hand, operates on an entirely different business model: Each employee, including the CEO Dirk Ahlborn, is not paid anything by the company. Instead, they work for stock options. Recently, the company has purchased land in Quay Valley, California, where it plans to build a five-mile Hyperloop test track which will break ground in 2016 for a public opening to 2018.

As with each new mode transportation — boats, trains, motor vehicles, and airplanes— the Hyperloop has the potential to significantly change the world. With the Hyperloop, the world of the future will be more connected than ever before.

 

Interested in technology of the future? Check out 3D Printing: The Shape of Things to Come.