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Hyperloop Technologies - the Future of Transportation

Essay by   •  January 16, 2019  •  Research Paper  •  2,697 Words (11 Pages)  •  119 Views

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Massive Change: Economics and Finance

Hyperloop Technologies- The Future of Transportation

Abhishek Naulakha (17010)

Abstract

The paper studies in detail the Hyperloop transportation system and aims to understand the impact that it may have on the different walks of human life, were this project to become successful. Hyperloops are supersonic modes of transport, currently in its ideation and testing stage, and was popularised as an idea by Elon Musk back in 2012. The paper first discusses in detail the Hyperloop system and how it functions. Thereon, it examines the challenges associated with the technology, the feasibility, the scope and the various companies currently investing heavily in the technology.

The main focus of the paper is the impact of the hyperloop system on not just on commuting, but on commerce, culture, society, and the wider community at large. The paper discusses at length the impact of the hyperloop system on mobility and migration at large, the future of freight and the shipping industry, tourism and regular commute and perceived geography and culture. It is concluded that if it is to become a reality, Hyperloop transport will re-shape the entire society and have an impact on human behaviour as well. Our understanding of the most basic things such as time and distance and their relationship may no longer remain linear. Hyperloops if successful, can be one of the most innovative inventions of the century and may shape the entire ecosystem in which we live in future.

Introduction

Hyperloop transportation systems are extremely fast transportation systems that operate on land via hypersonic pods in vacuum tubes. The recent models of these systems have achieved speeds of up to 1200 Kmph, faster than commercial airlines and without any turbulences or jerks. Hyperloop systems are expected to be the next revolution in the transportation industry, the biggest since the invention of the commercial aircraft. Essentially, the Hyperloop system moves in a vacuum controlled tube using magnetic rails to minimise resistance and was first brought to the mainstream thought process by Elon Musk back in 2012. With minimal electricity, the system moves at extremely high speeds, making it low cost to build and operate, and hence making it cheap and convenient for the passengers. Elon Musk’s idea received a warm response in that several entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and billionaires took a deep interest in this project which has the potential to change the way people commute between cities completely, and since then many start-ups have sprung up that deal with the Hyperloop system. As of now, most hyperloop systems are being tested on plain land, in a straight line of path. Eventually, hyperloop routes could be built as tunnels through hills, mountains and even under the sea. But, the infrastructure for such routes will likely be way more expensive and time-consuming, so those are further off into the future. Proponents of the Hyperloop system call it the next great mode of transport after the ship, the automobile, the train, and the aeroplane and consider it, if not more, every bit as revolutionary.

With the Hyperloop, supersonic jets are also making an entry into the transportation sector. By 2025, companies like Boom Technology are planning to fly its Boom Supersonic plane from London to New York in under three hours and 15 minutes. According to reports, 76 orders have been placed for the Virgin-backed Boom Supersonic jets[1]. Boom Technology CEO Blake Scholl has stated that they will create the first affordable supersonic jet, with a ticket price estimated at $5,000 from London to New York. On the other extreme, Musk estimated the cost of a seat in a Hyperloop pod to be $20 for a one-way trip[2], based on amortising the setup cost of $6 billion over 20 years. Musk, however, admitted that the Hyperloop is more suited to city pairs with high traffic that are less than about 1,500 KMs. Post that, supersonic air travel ends up being cheaper and faster.

The biggest question regarding the Hyperloop system is whether it can compete from a capital, operating and a safety standpoint. It's known that the whole system will require truckloads of money and paperwork to construct and operate the network of tubes and pods, address the various safety issues, and attract enough customers, and all of these for less than the cost of the more conventional methods of transportation. Hyperloop is being touted as a much cheaper means of transport as compared to its closest peers- commercial airlines and high-speed trains. Hyperloop One’s CEO Rob Lloyd says that the construction of the Hyperloop system will cost about $10 million per mile for a two-way track. To put it in context, China pays $12.4 million per mile for high-speed rail[3], while costs for California's high-speed rail system have risen to $35 million per mile[4]. The other upsides of the Hyperloop project apart from its fast speed and the cheaper costs include much lesser environmental impact since it relies solely on magnetic tracks, which can be powered via solar panels and a higher level of safety. Companies are currently in the process of testing and making commercially viable the first major hyperloop project. Potential routes include Pune to Mumbai, Kansas City to St Louis, New York to Washington DC, Vijayawada and Amaravati, Bratislava to Brno, and many more.

The Hyperloop system, as mentioned, will work primarily on electricity and solar power. The pods would get their speed from an electric motor, and the tube would have solar panels placed on top to generate more energy. Hence, only a small amount of electricity will be needed to power hyperloop to its highest speeds, making it one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transport.

Companies innovating in this space

Currently, four major companies are putting all their weight behind the hyperloop revolution. The largest team working on the project is the Virgin Hyperloop One, a venture started by Richard Branson. It is the closest to bringing the Hyperloop system to reality. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is the other big company investing heavily in the technology and has been working on potential routes in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, though not directly involved with the project, has held hyperloop competitions to find and rectify flaws in the existing prototype. And finally, the Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies (ET3) is taking a longer-term and a much different approach to the Hyperloop travel. It aims to create a network of smaller capsules that can travel at about 600 Kmph. The concept can be thought of as a hyperloop-powered superhighway full of many automated capsules. ET3 claims that the model can be built at a tenth of the cost of regular high-speed railways and a quarter of the cost of a freeway. That is why it sees the potential of travelling from the US to India in under 3 hours, and for under $50, as its CEO Daryl Oster mentioned in 2017[5].

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