When Elon Musk dropped a 57-page proposal for Hyperloop, a new kind of transportation system, in 2013, some thought his concept was a great idea. They just didn’t think it would ever happen. Hyperloop utilizes pods to transport people or cargo in a low-pressure tube, which cuts down on friction, at nearly the speed of sound. It’s unaffected by weather. There are no direct carbon emissions. It’s fast. Musk didn’t have time to build it on his own and open-sourced it, hoping someone else might pursue it. Turns out, Hyperloop Technologies Inc. (HTI) is building it right now. The first pieces of HTI’s test tracks are already resting on desert floor 30 miles north of Las Vegas. HTI maintains it will complete its first “full system, full scale, full speed test” by the end of this year.
Musk proposed Hyperloop, in part, because of his disappointment in California State’s plan to build a “high-speed” rail system for $68.4 billion. “If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system,” he wrote, “then the return should by rights be equally massive.” Founded in 2014, HTI came out of “stealth mode” in 2015. Uber backer Shervin Pishevar is the company’s co-founder and executive chairman. His Sherpa Ventures fund led Hyperloop Technologies’ $11.1 million Series A. Pishevar is reportedly to thank for Musk revealing Hyperloop in the first place. Former SpaceX engineer Brogan BamBrogan, also a co-founder, began as CEO, but moved to CTO after the company hired former Cisco president Rob Lloyd in 2015. Although HTI is building tracks, the project remains a “multi-decade effort and movement.” Challenges include massive infrastructure projects, land rights, funding, and convincing lawmakers it’s safe.
HTI is currently developing and testing its Hyperloop system in a 55,000-square-foot facility in Los Angeles’ Art District. According to reports, HTI chose the site “so Hyperloop could be around artists and designers and other creative types in a space big enough to build large-scale hardware.” HTI designed the “innovation campus” to accommodate large hardware like wind tunnels, levitation rigs, and electromagnetic test stands. The promise of Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes may change how we see commuting.
There are still engineering challenges. Officially HTI hasn’t shared how its pods will work in the low-pressure tubes. Will they float on a cushion of air, rely on magnetic levitation, or both? You can see a quick peek of its Levitation Test Rig in action here. HTI helped sponsor SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Design Weekend. Hyperloop will hand out its own awards based on concept: structural, fluid, and electromagnetic. Winning teams will get a chance to test their design in a simulation and win $150,000 in prize money. HTI has not announced winners. MIT students won the SpaceX award. Their solution involved magnetically levitating pods.
Plenty of NewCos want to change the world, but HTI, if it can make Hyperloop a reality, will have built an entirely new system of travel. BamBrogan said, “It’s rare as an engineer to have the chance to solve really big problems — and while building the Hyperloop is a massive undertaking, it is now an engineering certainty.”
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Photo Credit: Hyperloop Technologies Inc.