Hyperloop - Reality or a Farfetched Dream?
Updated: May 28
Nothing comes close to the famed Japanese 'SHINKANSEN,' also known as the bullet train whenever high-speed land transport is mentioned. It has proved its superiority over time by challenging any close competition. But as time would have it, Elon Musk- one of the greatest inventors of the 21st century, put forth the idea of a new technologically advanced mass transport system called the 'HYPERLOOP' in 2013. Hyperloop is envisioned not just to cut down travel times drastically between cities but also to be cost-effective and greener than other transport systems currently in heavy use around the world.
The goal at Virgin Hyperloop One is to run the hyperloop entirely on renewable energy, says Kristen hammer, materials engineering manager. She also adds, "We don't want to be chugging smoke into the air or causing pollution," she says. "There's no world where we have to cause pollution. It can be run off of all sorts of sustainable energy."
Through a study conducted by Virgin Hyperloop one, if implemented, the Hyperloop will result in a 58% reduction in the fossil fuel emissions if every flight between 310 and 930 miles is replaced by it.
If this reason doesn't appeal to the nations, then nobody knows what will. With reduced emissions, there will also be a reduction in the cost of managing these, and it is not a secret how various nations allocate a significant share of the annual budget every year.
Hyperloop is a system consisting of pneumatic steel tubes with a pod to carry people from one end of the tube to another end of the tube at supersonic speeds, now comes the exciting part; the pod will essentially float inside the tubes just like being levitated by few centimeters.
The distance between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is about 380 miles and takes around 5 hrs and 30 minutes to cover it by car while the air travel reduces the travel time to around 3 hrs and 28 minutes. If the same is traveled through hyperloop then the same can be covered in 30 minutes.
In addition to the above transport systems, a high-speed rail network called the "California High-Speed Rail" has been approved at a staggering cost of more than 60 billion USD-one of the "slowest and costliest per mile system" in the world according to The Hyperloop Alpha white paper presented by Elon Musk in the year 2013.
Vision behind the Hyperloop Technology
Although this paper gave the world a new vision ("fifth mode of transport") for the future of mass transportation but the technology backing this vision is not alien to the man. Pneumatic tubes for parcel, mail, money transfers had found widespread acceptance in the 19th century and still used at supermarkets, postal sorting stations, and banks. The concept of the Hyperloop somewhat resembles the pneumatic mail delivery systems where solids things can be moved around in sealed tubes with little air resistance and friction, humans traveling in a pod being the point of contention here. Here it is also interesting to note that in the year 1904, Robert Goddard improved upon the Vactrain concept, which would later serve as a guiding light for the Hyperloop system.
The concept, as presented in the Hyperloop Alpha, is based on improving upon the difficulties faced by the high-speed rail technology. The Alpha paper proposes a system where the Pods or the capsule would float on a set of 28 air-bearing skis or air cushions, just like the puck floats over the air hockey table. An external linear electric motor would provide the initial push, which would make the pod reach 'supersonic' velocity and linear accelerators placed all along the route would give acceleration as and when required.
As far as safety is concerned, emergency systems would be placed all along the track. In the event of any failure, the pods would automatically halt and slowly reach the destination to accommodate the emergency. Earthquakes in California are not new; accordingly, the tube placed upon quake-resistant pylons, which in turn would only take up a small place on the land just like "an electric or telephone pole on a farm." In the event of mass depressurization of the capsule, which is highly unlikely, the air masks would drop just like in the airplane, and the small air reserves in the tube would make up for the loss of pressure.
The estimated cost to build the system was $6 billion, with a one-way journey at 20$.
Space X and Tesla are not developing the technologies themselves but encouraging the other players to come forward and take the Hyperloop forward, which was mainly the reason to keep the concept explicitly open-sourced. This practice has proved fruit full, and players like HTT, Virgin Hyperloop One have taken the lead not just in making this a reality but also bringing to the table new technologies to make the system efficient.
Key Players in Hyperloop Market
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) has come up with a passive magnetic levitation for the pods to float. They have been licensed the tech by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The other side of this tech known as Active Magnetic Levitation, is used by the High-Speed Rail systems around the world but is super expensive. Passive magnetic levitation works only when the pod is in motion and is a self-stabilizing system. The pod will encounter the track only when the speed of the pod is zero.
"Utilizing a passive levitation system will eliminate the need for power stations along the Hyperloop track, which makes this system the most suitable for the application and will keep construction costs low," Bibop Gresta, chief operating officer of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, said in a press release.
The picture painted above looks too promising, but what they do on the ground would be the real deal. The field is wide open, so the competitors have grown ever since.
HTT had unveiled a full-size pod in 2018 at Puerta de Santa Maria, Spain. It has also signed an MoU in 2019 with the Andhra Pradesh Government in India to build a system between Vijayvada and Amravati, among other MoUs with 40 governments worldwide.
Virgin Hyperloop One, an American company, has taken the lead with the program, and it had built a full-size pod in 2017, which achieved a speed of 387km/hr at the test track in Nevada. Currently, it has signed an MoU with the Government of Maharashtra to build a hyperloop system between Pune and Mumbai. The program will expedite as the Government has earmarked the project as a Public Mass transportation Project.
Meanwhile, in the US, as much as 17 states have expressed interest in hosting the Hyperloop certification center. Other considered routes include connecting London with Edinburgh, Los Angeles with San Diego, Miami with Orlando, FL, Reno, NV with Las Vegas, and Chicago with Columbus, OH and Pittsburgh, PA.
Hardt, a European pioneer, is hoping to open a European Hyperloop Centre by the year 2022, which seems a little farfetched looking at the current COViD-19 situation.
Transpod, a Canadian company, had unveiled plans to connect Toronto with Montreal, Toronto, with Windsor and Edmonton to Calgary. It has also received the permission to build a 3-km test track in Droux near Limoges in France in 2017.
DGWHyperloop, an Indian company, plans to build a corridor between Delhi and Mumbai by the name DELHI MUMBAI HYPERLOOP CORRIDOR (DMHC).
There are also few honorable mentions which are still in the nascent stages like the Hyper Poland Project, Zeleros in Spain, and Hyper Chariots based in Santa Monica, US.
Global Hyperloop Market
Now, the question arises why intellectuals are getting behind this dream on such a large scale? The answer lies in the vast unexplored territory, valued at $1,870 million in 2020. The global market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.25% till 2030.
Hyperloop would also help save millions of gallons of the fuel burned for the transportation of cargo, and the tube segment is likely to lead the market. The Asia Pacific market would lead the Hyperloop Technology Market. China is expanding its transportation network rapidly and trying to bring down the costs related to freight hauling. Being a developing country, China spends about 15% of its GDP on logistics, which makes it incompetent compared to the West, where the average stands at around 10%-12% of the GDP.
Who doesn't want a share of such significant and juicy pie? The market size is evident by the number of partners these Hyperloop companies work in tandem with. E.g., Virgin Hyperloop One has joined hands with Companies including AECOM, AMBERG Group, ARCTURAN SUSTAINABLE CARGO, ARUP, Bjarke Ingels Group, Cargo Sous Terrain, Deutsche Bahn Engineering & Consulting, FS LINKS, GRID, KPMG and SYSTRA. All these partners are world leaders in their respective fields; Aemco claims to be the only engineering firm in the world to construct a hyperloop.
Similarly, HTT, another major player that is close to the dream ever before, has partnered with PriestmanGoode to design a prototype hyperloop capsule. Understanding the gravity of the invention, "When designing something as completely revolutionary as hyperloop, we consciously did not reference existing forms of transport to ensure that our thinking was clear and unrestrained," said PriestmanGoode Chairman Paul Priestman.
We see that the construction of the tube will incur the most cost (52%) based on the estimation by Hyperloop alpha whitepaper. The spirals to the growth in the heavy engineering industry, and consequently, the Hyperloop companies will themselves be involved in heavy engineering. If we take into consideration the West Coastline, we are looking at an annualized growth figure of 4.8% in heavy engineering (tube construction in this scenario) up to 2022.
It is still too early to estimate the share of the 'market share' these partners will command, but by the looks of it, nobody is in the mood to back down as Hyperloop is the only real breakthrough in the surface transport in over 100 years in the most practical sense.
Opposition of Hyperloop Technology
As with every innovation, there are always a few naysayers. There are reports regarding the loss of jobs, which are attributes to Hyperloop, and the numbers the story print run into tens of thousands. To deal with opposition to the loss of employment, there's always an e.g. of computers. When the computers were introduced in the 1970s, about 3.5 million jobs were lost, including those in typewriter manufacturing, secretarial work, and bookkeeping. But on the brighter side, 19.3 million jobs across all verticals were created in the US alone.
In conclusion, we can see that Hyperloop is the future of the transport systems around the world, with one of the first installations scheduled to take place outside of the US. If this becomes a reality which it will not in decades, but the coming few years, imagine the impact it will have on the lives of an average person. It might finally be possible to work in San Francisco and live in Nevada. Apart from the convenience, the green impact, we can also draw inspiration from the fact how the fellow Americans profited economically from the introduction of Railroads and how businesses set up alongside them.
The benefits of such a system far exceed the problems, but as time would have it, it is not far enough when we will be able to travel in a pod inside a sealed tube with a sound as loud as a 'SWOOSH.'
Lumenci had previously published a blog on Collegiate Hyperloop: Technology Transfer which was highly appreciated by the readers.