Could the Hyperloop Soon be a Reality?

An image released by Tesla Motors, is a sketch of the Hyperloop capsule with passengers onboard. . Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 unveiled a concept for a transport system he says would make the nearly 400-mile trip in half the time it takes an airplane. The "Hyperloop" system would use a large tube with capsules inside that would float on air, traveling at over 700 miles per hour. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Tesla Motors)
An image released by Tesla Motors, is a sketch of the Hyperloop capsule with passengers onboard. . Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 unveiled a concept for a transport system he says would make the nearly 400-mile trip in half the time it takes an airplane. The “Hyperloop” system would use a large tube with capsules inside that would float on air, traveling at over 700 miles per hour. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Tesla Motors)

In late August, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) announced co-development deals with Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum and the engineering design firm Aecom. The involvement of two established and publicly-traded companies was widely interpreted as validation of the idea that Tesla founder Elon Musk shared with the world in a whitepaper in August of 2013.

And there are other signs of forward motion on the Hyperloop: Musk himself is building a test track, through SpaceX, for a pod design contest slated for January of 2016. And HTT (which is not directly affiliated with Musk) is building a separate test track in California.

But not everyone’s jumping on board. The media, and especially the tech media, have been aflutter about the Hyperloop since that first paper. But close observers and transit industry vets are much less enthusiastic about the concept, from the big picture down to the nuts and bolts. They argue that even given that the Hyperloop whitepaper was a rough sketch, the most important elements of the plan–its speed and price–have been vastly oversold.

One of the Hyperloop’s critics is Alon Levy, a researcher in theoretical mathematics with Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, who analyzes public transit issues at the blog Pedestrian Observations. When the Hyperloop was first announced, Levy highlighted conceptual problems, including that Hyperloop’s acceleration would make it a “barf ride”.

The new partnerships haven’t changed his perspective. If anything, they’ve made him more worried about the Hyperloop’s potential to erode support for California’s high speed rail project (CHSR) between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“I think that [Hyperloop is] reducing political support for high speed rail in certain communities, like among very techy booster types in Silicon Valley,” says Levy.

Musk has in fact been openly hostile to CHSR, and devoted the first substantive paragraphs of the Hyperloop whitepaper to a swipe at “California ‘high speed’ rail” (complete with skeptical scare quotes), which he described as “one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world.” Musk isn’t alone in his frustrations–eminent railroad historian Richard White has suggested that CHSR could become a “Vietnam of transportation”.

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SOURCE: Fortune, David Z. Morris

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