Next stop, the future
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s Hyperloop, the first flying train. At 1,200 km per hour, if you blink, you will miss it.
30 minutes. This is how long it takes to update the latest version of Windows or the length of the ninth Beatles album, Yesterday and Today. It is also how long it will take to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2021, half of what it currently takes to do the same trip by plane. That’s 600 km in half an hour. The connection between the two cities is the first line that will be covered by the supersonic train, developed by North American company Hyperloop One. It will reach 1,200 km per hour. Bad news for the Japanese Maglev, which has been the fastest train in the world until now. Hyperloop will double its record speed.
The tests planned for the end of the year, involving a real capsule going at actual speed, have a budget of 80 million dollars.
There will be 37 km between its capsules. The departure interval will be two minutes. Each capsule will be 1.30 m wide. Their height will be about 1.10 m. Up to 28 passengers will be able to travel in each one.
Choosing between a window and aisle seat will be a thing of the past. Passengers will travel in special, levitating aluminium capsules, at very low pressure, inside tubes held up by pillars. How? The system is similar to the one used on aeroplanes, which transport people at 900 km per hour. They can achieve this speed because, at a higher altitude, there is less air resistance. The idea of Hyperloop One is to recreate the same environment: the capsule will travel inside a pressurised tube. This futuristic technology prioritises respect for the environment, by using renewable energy sources: solar, wind and kinetic. It will make the transport tube systems from Futurama into a reality. In this animated series by Matt Groening, residents of a large, 31st-century city avoid traffic by travelling at super speeds, through pneumatic tubes.
“It’s a hybrid between a high-speed train, Concorde and an air hockey table.” That is how South African Elon Musk defines his idea. The technological visionary began working on his plan in 2013. It is not his first stroke of genius: besides founding PayPal, he manufactures electric cars, and sends supplies to the International Space Station using his private rockets. “Elon Musk is going to change the future of humanity. I’d donate my entire fortune to him,” Larry Page, CEO and founder of Google, used to refer to him famously said.
They also plan to design bigger capsules, to transport vehicles.
The train will be ready to transport freight in 2019, but it has already passed its first test in the Nevada desert. The team went from theory to practice, by building several rails, where a prototype the size of a car reached 190 km per hour in two seconds. At the end of the year, a full-scale and full-speed test is planned to take place in a 2 km-long tube. They are the first tests for a project designed to transport more than 10 million people a year. Where? Hyperloop will start operating in California, but in the words of its inventor, any stretch of less than 1,500 km would be profitable.
According to Elon Musk, Hyperloop will be the fifth means of transport, after train, boat, car and aeroplane.
How much? Hyperloop sounds like its prices would be as outrageous as its speed, but reality says otherwise. “Using a levitation system eliminates the need for electrical substations. Consequently, the system will have low construction costs,” Bibop Gresta, director of the start-up assures us. Musk calculated that the cost of connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco would be $6 billion. This means travellers would have to pay $20 for a one-way ticket., an insignificant amount for (nearly) making one of our greatest yearnings into a reality: teleportation.