by Keith D. Foote
The Hyperloop is a theoretical high-speed transportation system. It incorporates reduced-pressure tubes with pressurized capsules/pods riding on a cushion of air. It resembles a train, but travels in a tube. A hyperloop system could reduce energy use costs and travel time. Travel speeds could easily reach 750 mph (1,200 km/h) between cities, with electricity/propulsion being provided by renewable energy sources. Entrepreneur Elon Musk popularized the concept in a research paper in 2013.
An early, preliminary design was made public in August of 2013. This design included a preliminary estimate for a passenger-only version costing $6 billion, while a separate version transporting passengers and vehicles was estimated to cost $7.5 billion. Transportation engineers found the sum too low, given the scale of construction and that this was an unproven technology.
Hyperloop Technologies Inc. named Rob Lloyd, formerly of Cisco Systems, as its chief executive. They named former Snapchat Inc. chief operating officer and Emily White as a board of directors "observer. Rob Lloyd has also invested in the company, which was publicly launched in March. At that time, it was announced early SpaceX employee Brogan BamBrogan and several prominent tech and political leaders were going to raise more than $8 million needed to to get the business going. Investors include Jim Messina, Pres Obamas former deputy chief of staff, the X Prize Foundation, Peter Diamandis, and Silicon Valley's venture capitalists Shervin Pishevar and Joe Lonsdale.
Lloyd said he became a believer after he saw the companys progress.
At Cisco, he pushed expansion into video, cloud computing and other emerging business lines made possible by the Internet. He retired in June after he was a surprise snub for the CEO job.
Now he said he plans to take on a new network.
A network that doesnt carry bits but transports atoms -- people and things -- all around the world, he said. The customers well serve will be governments, enterprises, transportation companies, and I have been doing business with them for 15 years.
At present, the are discussions about building a Hyperloop train capable of shuttling people between Los Angeles and San Francisco in only 30 minutes, just sped a bit closer to reality.
Construction of the Hyperloop will begin next year. The technology is available and they are currently organizing the necessary licenses. The system should be open to the public in 2018 or 2019. The goal is to transport over 10 million passengers each year. Elon Musk described the Hyperloop as a fifth mode of transport. One that will be fast, safe and largely powered with electricity by its own solar panels. Mr. Musk told CNN Money the project was not really all that difficult.
At present, the company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc. (which is not connected with Elon Musk or Tesla) has signed contracts with landowners in California to build the first Hyperloop test track. They are planning to build the 8 km (5 mile) test track alongside California's Interstate 5. (Originally, they had planned to build the test track in Texas.)
The passenger pods will move inside tubes using a partial vacuum. It will be accelerated using magnets, and a set of fans at the bottom will allow the train to rest on a cushion of air. The hyperloop will be powered by solar panels placed along the outside of of the tube.
Each passenger pod, or HyperPod, has its own compressor at its front. This compressor sucks in the air in front of it, creating a slight vacuum at th front. This significantly minimizes the drag as it travels through the tube. They are developing a unique compressor technology designed to operate at very high-speeds and they have built a customized wind tunnel capable testing a wide variety of speeds & pressures.
The HyperPods use of "air bearings" allows the train to float on a cushion of air. There are no wheels. They are also exploring some alternatives, such as a passive magnetic levitation (maglev) design.
The HyperPods are sent through the tube using electric linear motors. The same motors are used to break the pods during normal operation, allowing them to recapture much of the energy. They are trying to optimize their system by exploring a variety of innovations. These innovations include advanced energy storage, high-power drives & power electronics, high-speed controls, and a custom electromagnetic motor.
The tube structure is still in the design stage, and materials haven't been decided on.
The Hyperloop could be the fastest, cheapest and most energy-efficient form of travel. But is the technology is feasible or safe? One problem is the tubes have to be very, very straight. The guideway/tube has to be built to incredibly fine tolerances. Should the tube wall shift by just a few thousandths of an inch, the pod would crash.
The Hyperloop tubes also have be able to maintain a low air pressure. If the vacuum is lost in the tube, the pod, and everyone in it, will crash. Powell said. It is crucial the vehicle's compressor, which pumps out the the air cushion carrying the pods, does not fail. If it does, the pods will smash into the tube walls. The Hyperloop pods will need redundant backup compressors
The whole Hyperloop system requires extreme perfectionism. A crack or hole in the tube's shell, or an earthquake (not exactly rare in California) could shift the tube just a fraction of an inch. Both scenarios would cause the pods to crash. A superconducting maglev, where the magnets are very stable and reliable, might end up being the safer choice.