What is Hyperloop? Everything you need to know about the race for super-fast travel
Hyperloop technologies could revolutionise travel: here’s everything you need to know about the technology and the companies involved.
Essentially, hyperloop is a vacuum tube where a pod slides along a single track that is magnetized so that there is very little resistance. This pristine environment allows the pod to move at extremely high speeds using minimal electricity, which makes it fairly low-cost to build and operate–and so potentially much less expensive for passengers to buy tickets.
While today’s bullet trains travel at 200 miles per hour and commercial airplanes cruise at 500-600 mph, the hyperloop has projected speeds of 700-800 mph. And since a hyperloop can avoid the takeoff and landing that an airplane needs to get to cruising altitude, it can shave additional time off the journey and create a more efficient trip.
The initial hyperloop designs are for elevated tracks that look similar to the monorail at Disney World–except with an enclosed tube on top of the pylons. This works great for flat, straight routes, and these are likely to be the targets for the first hyperloop deployments.
Which companies are working on hyperloop?
Since Musk’s hyperloop manifesto five years ago, a number of companies have sprung up in earnest to commercialize the idea:
- Virgin Hyperloop One: Perhaps the largest team working on the concept is the group at Hyperloop One, which has been toiling away on bringing hyperloop into reality since 2014 and is now backed by the Virgin brand, thanks to an investment from Richard Branson. ZDNet’s sister site TechRepublic interviewed Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd at CES 2018 about the company’s roadmap to bring hyperloop into reality in the next several years.
- Hyperloop Transportation Technologies: The other company that is the furthest along in bringing hyperloop to market is HTT, which has been working on it since the end of 2013. It takes more of an open source approach, with a number of engineers contributing time to the effort while still holding down other day jobs. It’s been working on potential routes in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and it’s even toyed with the idea of smaller, slower hyperloops in big cities that ease commutes and could potentially deliver passengers faster to the big, fast loops.
- SpaceX: After initially put the idea into the public because he said his companies didn’t have time to work on it, Elon Musk has since spun up a Hyperloop division within SpaceX. While it’s playing from behind, SpaceX has successfully launched a series of Hyperloop competitions that are aimed to overcoming some of the concept’s challenges. For 2018, they are running a Hyperloop Pod Competition, for example.
- ET3 Global Alliance: Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies (ET3) is taking a different–and longer-term–approach to vacuum tube travel. It wants to create a network of smaller capsules that can travel at about 375 mph. Think of it as a hyperloop-powered superhighway full of automated capsules. It claims that this can be built for a tenth of the cost of high-speed rail and a quarter of the cost of a freeway. That’s why it sees the potential of traveling from the US to India in 3 hours for under $50, as its CEO Daryl Oster told TechRepublic in 2017.