The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where brilliant minds explore, innovate and create something exceptional is what our article is going to take us through. Historic innovations, latest technology legendary things have happened here.
The MIT team is one of the several ones working on the future of traveling. Yes, I am talking about the Hyperloop, a vision for insanely rapid travel put forth by Silicon Valley’s most interesting and one of the most successful men, Elon Musk.
We know the Tesla man in the automobile world but he is the driving force of Hyperloop. The commute from San Francisco to Los Angeles that is currently a few minutes shy of 5 hours or approximately an hour’s journey by flight could be cut to just 30 minutes.
Yes, Hyperloop is definitely the future of travel.
So,What is Hyperloop?
Hyperloop is a conceptual transport system in which passengers are loaded into pods and fired through vacuum tubes at more than 600mph (1,000km/h). This sounds more like something you’d see right off some sci-fi movie or a spy movie. However, prototype pods have already been tested and a running along magnetic tracks much like the maglev trains that are currently used in countries such as Japan.
Air pumped out of the tubes reduces resistance that allows high speeds to be achieved. This potentially used less energy than a normal train.
This breakthrough idea could most certainly reduce journey times over long distances. That being said, there is more to it than meets the eye and the eye looks at various challenges before the idea becomes reality.
Mr Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX published a white paper outlining a way to use airtight tubes to propel pods at speeds of up to 1130 km/h, he set a challenge to anyone and everyone who wanted to build the technology.
There’s a small twist to it. Mr Elon is not paying the firms. However, he has committed to funding a series of tests. His target is set to the year 2021 where humans would travel on Hyperloops around the world. The MIT team is one of more than 20 non-commercial groups also designing a Hyperloop pod – with money coming from SpaceX in the form of a competition.
The project was split over 2 phases. A design contest that MIT, had won in January and an on-track test, which is coming up in summer. This might either be it or it could also be a colossal waste of time. The barriers to Hyperloop becoming a reality are enormous.
How does Hyperloop work?
With all that’s said, the obvious question arises. How does Hyperloop work?
Air Bearings or Maglev:
That’s one of the major problems that anything that moves faces. Friction against surfaces and the environment. But, Hyperloop proposes to move away from traditional wheels by using air bearings for pods instead. This will have the pod floating on air. This concept is similar to maglev in which the electromagnetic levitation of the train means that there is no friction like a traditional train that runs on tracks.
- Fun Fact: The Maglev can achieve speeds up to 500 km/h in Japan.
There is another proposal from Hyperloop Transportation Technologies that uses passive magnetic levitation. This means magnets are on the trains and work with aluminum tracks. Current active maglev needs powered tracks with copper coiling, which can be expensive. Hyperloop will take this technology to another level and would take traveling through low-pressure tubes.
The Hyperloop is built in tunnels that have had some of the air sucked out to lower the pressure. So, like high altitude flying, there’s less resistance against the pod moving through the tunnel, meaning it can be much more energy efficient, something that’s highly desirable in any transit system.
The air bearing and passive maglev ideas are designed not only to levitate the pod, but also see the pod moving through the air, rather than pushing the air in front of it and dragging it along behind. The air cushion will see the air pumped from the front of the pod to the rear via these suspension cushions.
The tunnels envisioned are metal tubes, elevated as an over ground system. Musk has suggested that solar panels running on the top of the tunnels could generate enough electricity to power the system. It could also run as an underground system too.
Hyperloop is being proposed as an alternative to short distance air travel where the system will be much faster than existing rail networks and much cleaner than flights.
Speeds of over 700mph are suggested for journeys, but there are practical implications that have to be considered on a short stop-start journey, such as the acceleration and deceleration sensation that passengers would go through.
Hyperloop in Action:
Currently, Elon Musk has barely announced much about the Hyperloop. There is going to be a 1-mile track built by SpaceX adjacent to Hawthorne, its California headquarters. The plan is to have a competition for students with their various pod designs in the summer of 2016.
The planning documents that have already been shown off planned a route between LA and San Francisco, a 354-mile journey, which would cost around $6 billion in construction. This is based on a passenger-only model whereas one that can also transport vehicles too would be $7.5 billion. This extra expenditure would be worth it since more people could use the system, offering potentially larger returns.
How much will Hyperloop cost to a layman?
According to Hyperloop Transportation Technologies CEO Dirk Ahlborn the cost of a ticket should be around $30 mark to get a passenger from LA to San Francisco. That, he says, should allow the company to pay back its initial costs in eight years. Weather this will actually be the final price of a ticket remains to be seen. To my opinion, you’ve got to have some deep pockets in order to commute on Hyperloop. But, its totally understandable that the company needs to achieve its ROI at the earliest.
Innovation is exciting. You’d definitely want to travel once in a life time on the Hyperloop if not commute.