How the Hyperloop Works
The hyperloop term sounds like the hyperspace concept from Star Wars. In reality, hyperloop transportation relies on magnetic fields. Conceptually, the hyperloop has more in common with the maglev trains in Japan than anything in space. By using a magnetic force instead of wheels, a hyperloop moves with almost no sound. As a result, hyperloop technology could be the right choice for areas with strict noise pollution laws.
$500 Million Invested in West Virginia
There is a long road to travel before Amtrak has to worry about competition from the hyperloop. Virgin has invested half a billion dollars in a West Virginia facility to develop the technology further and meet US safety requirements.
The very concept of a certification process represents a significant step forward for the technology. Ten years ago, the hyperloop was little more than a dream. As investment in the technology improved it, the US government stepped in to provide high-level guidelines. Two developments highlight the government's support for the new transportation technology. The Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council is working on a technology regulatory framework. On a legislative level, the Moving Forward Act (HR 2) formally recognizes the hyperloop.
India Might Get the Hyperloop First
Even with this moderate level of US government recognition in place, India may receive the hyperloop first. In 2019, the Indian government approved a Mumbai-Pune hyperloop. The distance between the cities is more than 160 kilometers (100 miles). If the project achieves its goals, it will make the trip in about 35 minutes. That will represent significant savings over the current commute time of more than three hours by car. Virgin Hyperloop is planning to build the project along with DP World, a logistics company based in Dubai.
Mexico is also working on a hyperloop system that will connect Mexico City with Guadalajara, Leon, and Queretaro. The Mexican hyperloop's anticipated maximum speed is 1,200 kilometers per hour (745 miles per hour).
Jet Travel on the Ground
Estimates vary about the ultimate speed that Virgin hyperloop vehicles will achieve. At 102 miles per hour, the recent human test's maximum speed would be faster than standard vehicles and trucks on highways. There is some speculation that the Virgin hyperloop will eventually achieve 600 miles per hour (966 km).
At that speed, the Hyperloop would be faster than existing high-speed trains and many jets. According to the Telegraph, "Average cruising speed for a passenger jet is around 575mph." If commercial hyperloop travel becomes possible, it could relegate jetliners to travel over bodies of water alone.
288 Miles Per Hour Speed Achieved in 2019
Virgin faces stiff competition from several other companies intent on creating hyperloop technology. In 2019, the winner of the SpaceX hyperloop competition was the TUM Hyperloop. It achieved a top speed of 288 miles per hour (463 km/h). Created by a team from Munich, Germany, it shows the level of hyperloop coming from Germany. That accomplishment took place on a mile-long test area in California.
Successfully running hyperloop vehicles over longer speeds remains a question. The test conditions also limit certain real-world factors that a commercial hyperloop would have to achieve, such as curves. Without the ability to safely navigate curves and elevation changes, it might be impractical to create a hyperloop network across the country.
Good News for Elon Musk
Elon Musk, the technology entrepreneur and CEO who leads SpaceX, has been promoting hyperloop technology for several years. So far, Musk's focus on the hyperloop has taken a few different forms. Musk promotes hyperloop technology by organizing an annual hyperloop competition. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 competition has been canceled.
Ultimately, Musk's hyperloop technology appears to be focused on tunnel technology. The Boring Company, established in 2016, is working at improving tunnel technology. Hyperloop vehicles require highly sophisticated tracks to run safely. By building the infrastructure that tomorrow's hyperloop runs on, the Boring Company may prosper.
About the Author
Bruce Harpham is an author and marketing consultant based in Canada. His first book "Project Managers At Work" shared real-world success lessons from NASA, Google, and other organizations. His articles have been published in CIO.com, InfoWorld, Canadian Business, and other organizations. Visit BruceHarpham.com for articles, interviews with tech leaders, and updates on future books.