For the last four years, tech junkies have been obsessed with the Hyperloop, a revolutionary mode of transportation that would fundamentally change the way we live. And to be honest, we all should be enamored by traveling in a tube at over 700 mph.
The last century has seen cars that spawned the birth of industrial society, trains that sprawled across the country and connected the coasts, and planes that could traverse hemispheres in a matter of hours. This rapid development and deep-seated desire to be faster and safer has engendered a transportation arms race, and we’re the main beneficiaries. The Hyperloop combines the best of both worlds and offers jet-like speeds for the cost of a bus-fare. It looks like 2017 will see some major developments for the storied technology.
Before we can discuss updates, let’s talk about the hardware. The concept is simple — you have a capsule full of people that travel at ridiculous speeds in a vacuum tube, all in an effort to reduce friction. Interestingly enough, however, stuff like this isn’t new.
The infamous maglev trains of Japan and China are similar in their use of magnets to levitate the train (protecting against rail friction) and boast outrageous travel speeds of 300mph. The Hyperloop, on the other hand, takes it ten steps further. The initial design was developed by Elon Musk and SpaceX, and they’ve since open-sourced the technology so that other companies can push the boundaries. The capsules would accelerate to cruising speed gradually using a linear electric motor and glide above their track using passive magnetic levitation or air bearings.The result is an incredibly efficient, easy to manipulate, and blazingly fast means of travel. At top speed, the Hyperloop would travel 760 mph and could get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a half hour. That same trip would take 120 minutes by plane.
However, promising technology never insinuates cost-effective and easy execution. In fact, the entire Hyperloop project is often plagued by outrageous costs and lacking resources. The SF-LA line would cost nearly $8 billion, and would be an infrastructural nightmare during construction.
But, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and a lot of companies, including SpaceX, have stepped up to the plate. SpaceX held a competition in early February where the best designs could possibly be put into production, and an enterprise known as Hyperloop One has been working extremely hard to machine a practical prototype. In fact, they’ve secured heavy funding from Dubai authorities and have confirmed plans for the first Hyperloop that will connect Dubai and Abu Dhabi. One will be able to make the journey in twelve minutes and they will plan to make tests in the coming months.
2017 will be an absolutely historic year for the Hyperloop. We’ll finally be able to get a look at some prototypes in the field, and decide for ourselves whether or not this is a gimmick or a legitimate disruptor. Architecture firms, banks, venture capitalists, and aspiring engineers are throwing insane amounts of money to forge a Hyperloop reality, and the upcoming year will be historic in shaping its future.
As a society, we continue to push forward, evolve, and become better versions of ourselves, and I think no industry has better embodied those precepts than transportation. We continually re-draw the boundaries of what it means to transport ourselves, and the Hyperloop ought to make you giddy at the thought of its potential.