Hyperloop: The Future of High-Speed Transport System?


Friction is a hurdle for any moving object. Hyperloop, coined by Space X & Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, aims to move away from conventional wheels by making compartments or pods to travel inside low-pressure steel tubes. A high-powered turbine engine and a low-pressure tunnel would facilitate the pods to reach velocities close to the sound of speed. Maglev trains use electromagnetic levitation to move the train without making contact to the surface (Japan’s Maglev trains set a record of 603 km/h). The low-pressure tube levitation of pods is seen as taking the Maglev train concept to the next highest level.

A test trench was dug in Space X’s premises. Mr. Musk has repeatedly said that they are just thinking of ways to improve tunneling speed and even added ‘for now, we don’t have any idea what we’re doing’. But his grandiose vision has already made investors around the world to commit millions of dollars, in order to find a meaningful way to test the possible futuristic transit system. Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One is working to commercialize the hyperloop concept. It was one among the 12 companies that’s battling to convert this idea into a reality. Hyperloop One has recently finished its 500 meter testing tunnel (diameter of 3.3 meters), situated in Nevada desert, Las Vegas. The company also announced its futuristic plans to build 11 long routes with in US for super-fast transportation. Elon Musk is building a 1-mile track and has announced different student competitions to fast track the project. He even kicked-off pod race between students at Space X headquarters.

The designs are bit like the train, the biggest difference being the pods move travel in friction-less surrounding with little air resistance. The pods are designed to hit speeds of 800mph. Hyperloop is proposed as an alternative for the air travel (short-distance ones). Mr. Musk has also suggested of solar panels running atop the metal tube tunnels, which could generate electricity to power the system. Despite all these fascinating aspects, Hyperloop  definitely would have to confront engineering and safety-measures challenges as the visionaries start to dig more into this project. The companies’ designing the high-speeds pods hope to make this transportation mode operational by the early 2020’s.

Maintaining adequate vacuum over long distance travel in Hyperloop is seen to be one of the foremost technical hurdles. Experts consider that it would take high maintenance costs to suck immense amount of air out of the tube, in order to hold vacuum against the natural forces pushing air into spaces. The cost to maintain the vacuum is suggested to be lot more than building the tunnels and high-speed system. The ideal speed for passenger travel is also debated over. Currently speeds of 700-800 mph are suggested for the trips, yet there are practical implications like dealing with G forces and sensation felt by passengers during sudden acceleration and deceleration. Placing thousands of flexible vacuum seals in the tube length is yet another engineering challenge. Like the expansion joints in bridges, the flexible vacuum seals would make it possible for the tube to contract and expand as per the seasonal changes. Building such flexibility for vacuum tubes is not an easy task for now.

Finally, the experts doubt the ability for the tubes to withhold seismic activities. The list of technical hurdles goes on and on with safety precautions and evacuation procedures. Of course, fresh conflicts & hazards would follow as the project inches toward higher stages. Nevertheless, the Hyper-loop concept looks like a scalable solution to the hazardous (especially to environment) transportation systems that are in place. It will take a bit longer time to prove hyper-loop is the safest and fastest transit system. I don’t have through knowledge of the engineering and physics to declare whether the concept is viable or not. Yet, ‘Hyperloop’ sounds positively futuristic.


The Jet Set Hyperloop — a wonderful article on the history behind the Hyperloop idea


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