It could become a massive infrastructure project, spawning billions of dollars in construction work. Or it could be smoke and mirrors.
That’s the potential of the Hyperloop, a visionary transportation idea that aims to push the limits of modern engineering, design, and construction. Touted as the fifth mode of transportation, Hyperloop would use large, enclosed tubes to move passenger train-like capsules on a cushion of air at speeds of over 700 mph. Since Elon Musk’s Hyperloop proposal surfaced last year, the promise of “traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco in approximately 35 minutes” has drawn endless interest and speculation.
Hyperloop hopes to achieve air travel-like speed and efficiency within a ground-based system that most closely resembles a high-speed rail network. Utilizing low air pressure, electricity and magnetism, engineers and designers are developing technology to safely propel passenger-filled capsules across long distances in record time.
But with cost estimates starting in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is Hyperloop really inevitable? Or can we just abbreviate the name and call it hype?
In a race to disrupt conventional modes and methods of transportation, two California-based companies, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc. (HTT) and Hyperloop Technologies Inc. (HT), are leading the challenge of bringing the Hyperloop concept to fruition.
Crowdfunded HTT plans to begin construction on a full-scale Hyperloop track that will service a future community of 25,000 homes in Quay Valley, California.
Musk’s company SpaceX is also sponsoring a Hyperloop competition at its California test track.
We are still waiting for the first fully operational Hyperloop prototype. Even if a working concept is built, a tremendous amount of work lies ahead to develop infrastructure to deliver the performance, reliability and safety required for it to be a viable means of transportation. It is surely an ambitious project—but one with a lot of optimism, vision, and focus behind it.
Image: Hyperloop concept art from HTT.