The Hyperloop and the Evolution of Travel


Methods of travel have been relatively unchanged for the last 30 years. The only difference is that it keeps getting more expensive to fly, buy a car, or to commute to work. Technology has advanced over the years in many forms. Americans rely greatly on these expensive forms of travel to get to where they need to go but this dependence on these forms of travel have been negatively affecting the environment for decades. Every form of transportation relies heavily on fossil fuels and ultimately these fossil fuels will run out someday. The environment has already taken a beating from the extraction process and currently outside of a small offering of electric cars, there are very little options when it comes to environmentally conscience forms of travel. There is one man however that is looking to change that.

Elon Musk has made it his life mission to create clean energy solutions for the planet. What started with the electric car company Tesla has now morphed into the search for a high-speed mode of mass transportation that is not dependent on fossil fuels. Musk first mentioned the concept of a “fifth mode of transportation” back in July of 2012. He was at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica when he spoke about this proposed concept of travel and dubbed it the “Hyperloop”. Musk prophesized that the Hyperloop would be capable of reaching hypersonic speeds, immune to extreme weather and collisions, and most importantly would require low power consumption. This concept of transportation was named the Hyperloop because the transport system would run in a constant loop. His idea was met with enthusiasm but skepticism. There is a need for clean forms of transportation but the method that Musk proposed seemed so outlandish that people has a hard time believing that it could be achieved but that didn’t stop Elon Musk from pushing his invention forward.

Musk has never been one to shy away from a challenge. He has been referred to as the Thomas Edison of the 21st century and has been currently focusing on clean energy travel solutions for the planet that reduce waste and the dependence on fossil fuels. Tesla has been a huge hit and the Tesla Model S is consistently voted as the best electric car on the market. The future of Tesla Inc is looking good. The idea behind Tesla was to create a fast and sleek electric car that would appeal to a broad range of people. Most thought it was a fruitless endeavor but Musk managed to design a beautiful American made automobile. Elon Musk at Tesla stated that he believes that electric cars will take over the market in the next 20 years. Musk wanted to also apply the same thinking to mass transportation. The goal of the Hyperloop is create transportation that is faster than a plane, cheaper than most forms of travel, and will be energy efficient and will not depend on the ever shrinking supply of fossil fuels.

From late 2012 until August 2013, engineers from both Tesla and SpaceX worked on the initial design of the Hyperloop system and the design was published on the official blogs of both Tesla and SpaceX. In a surprising move, Musk invited feedback from people about the system and ways to potentially improve it. The design and functionality behind the Hyperloop will be an open source concept and feedback and design ideas from the public will be put into consideration.

The design behind the Hyperloop is not a new one. The idea of traveling in pods through a tunnel has been around for a long time but Musk was looking to make his own version that would be solar operated and would rely on linear induction motors and air compressors. Specially designed pods would carry people through a continuous steel tube where the pods would float on a thin layer of air. The concept is similar to how an air hockey table works when the pucks float on the table. The induction motors located along the steel tube would accelerate and decelerate the pod along the track at an immense speed. The system would be powered by solar panels along the track that would be provided by Musk’ company, Solar City. Musk’s other company Tesla would provide motors and electronics for the system.

Due to the open source design concept, there are many other companies that are working to help bring the Hyperloop to market. In June of 2014 a startup in Los Angeles called Hyperloop One was incorporated and has raised about $160 million. The company has amassed a team of 200 engineers and technicians to work on making this “fifth mode” of transportation a reality. Musk is not directly involved in the company but there are many connections that Musk has to the company. Hyperloop’s Executive Chairman and co-founder, Shervin Pishevar has very strong connections to Musk. Musk also has connections with the other co-founder, Josh Giegel, who is also a lead engineer for SpaceX. Hyperloop One has taken certain elements of Musk’s original design and have modified certain key technical elements. These changes include the addition of passive magnetic levitation and eliminating the compressor that Elon Musk first envisioned for the Hyperloop.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies was another company that was created to help construct the Hyperloop. This company operates a little differently than most start up companies. HTT is comprised of 500 part-time engineers located all throughout the United States who collaborate on a weekly basis through weekly teleconferences. Instead of a salary, the members work in exchange for stock options. They have stated that they believe that they are at least ten years away from creating a fully operational Hyperloop. They are currently working on creating a test track that will be located in California and would be about 5 miles long.

There have been a number of routes proposed for the Hyperloop. The first proposed route from Musk was from the Los Angeles area up to the San Francisco area. The proposed route would begin near Sylmar and follow I-5 and then end somewhere near Hayward. Currently, Hyperloop One is proposing routes in Europe with the first route being between Helsinki and Stockholm with the projected travel time of only 30 minutes. Hyperloop One is also currently conducting studies to see if it is feasible to create routes between Dubai and other parts of the United Arab Emirates.

SpaceX in June of 2015 announced that it would build a 1 mile-long test track near the Hawthorne facility. This track will be used to test out pods that will be designed by third parties in a competition. The Hyperloop Pod Competition is a SpaceX sponsored competition where student and non-students teams participate in the design and building of a pod prototype. It is open to teams from all over the world. The track was completed in 2016 and although it varies from the initial prototype that Musk unveiled, it is specifically designed so a wide variety of test pods can be tried out on the track. The announcement of the contest created a lot of buzz surrounding the Hyperloop and people from the around the world are looking to participate in this revolutionary contest.

Hyperloop is an amazing concept that would revolutionize the way we approach transportation and travel. The Hyperloop is also innovative in the aspect that it has become an open source concept that has now grown into a project that spans the globe and has multiple groups of people and companies working diligently to create the most sophisticated mode of travel that the world has ever seen. This energy efficient transport will be the next step in helping to create a better environment for future generations.

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