Jackie Adams 2015-09-01 03:33:15
THE HYPERLOOP IS CRUISING FROM DREAM TO REALITY. The buzz began Aug. 12, 2013, the day inventor, engineer and magnate Elon Musk released the alpha white paper for the Hyperloop online. Enthusiasts everywhere who had been following Musk’s innovation trajectory from SpaceX to Tesla Motors were eager to read through all 57 pages of the engineering blueprint, which outlined a high-speed transportation system that would whisk travelers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 35 minutes. Musk has described the system, which incorporates pressurized capsules inside of reduced-pressure tubes, as “a cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.” The Tesla CEO boldly predicted the Hyperloop would be a new, “fifth mode of transportation,” after airplanes, trains, automobiles and boats. The aluminum pods, which resemble a futuristic train, could potentially travel nearly 800 miles per hour and, because of the way the track is designed, a pod crash would be nearly impossible. They would also be completely solar-powered, and cost tens of billions of dollars less than the controversial California bullet train that is currently in the works. The idea was new and the technology was untested, but early reports were promising. If the Hyperloop was made a reality, it could change the world. Suddenly, a person could live and work in different cities—his or her daily commute could cross state lines. Chicagoans could leave their homes in the afternoon to see a concert in Nashville, and be back in the Windy City to sleep in their own beds that same night. Days waiting at airports and flying from LA to New York City would be a thing of the past. The Hyperloop could also revolutionize freight transportation. The possibilities are endless. Now, the question on everyone’s minds remains: Who will build it? Musk has already bowed out. As the CEO of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and a father of five, he has committed to remain focused on other endeavors. For this reason, he’s decided to share his idea—and the blueprints put together by engineers from his companies—and let anyone, with the means and the will, attempt to make it a reality. Entering the Ring Less than two months after the white papers were released, Dirk Ahlborn, a serial entrepreneur, stepped into the arena. As the CEO of Jumpstarter Inc.—a company that operates JumpStartFund, providing crowdsourcing technology and resources—Ahlborn seemed like an ideal match for the Hyperloop. “Here’s the technology and an entrepreneur who has the idea but he doesn’t have the time,” Ahlborn says of Musk. “We reached out during a business meeting at SpaceX. One of my business partners talked it over briefly, and then we put it on [JumpStartFund].” Thus, the first major company to begin working on the Hyperloop, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc. (HTT), was born. The response from both the transportation industry and the general public was immediate and overwhelming. As soon as it was placed on JumpStartFund, hundreds of applications began pouring in. Engineers, graphic designers, university professors and other enthusiasts from all over the world were clamoring to be a part of the project in exchange for equity in the company. “Just from this week, we’ve got folks applying that are ex-NASA workers; we’ve got folks from the Department of Defense to big accounting firms to big construction firms,” explains Michael Eberhardt, senior operations manager at HTT. “We’ve got some pretty impressive [candidates] applying to some of these roles, trying to get their foot in the door.” UCLA Architecture and Urban Design professor Craig Hodgetts, who redesigned the Hollywood Bowl, led a group of 25 graduate students working on the Hyperloop concept as a UCLA A.UD Suprastudio for a year. The studio contemplated where stations in major cities could be based, what the urban planning around those areas might look like, what solutions could enhance the experience for travelers as it relates to station and vessel design, local transportation options to and from Hyperloop stations, and how such a project could be brought to life. “I read the documents carefully and I have enough of [the] background to say it works; it can be done; it doesn’t pose a big risk technologically or investment-wise,” Hodgetts says. “So the real puzzle is actually what we’re going to be doing: How do you get to it? How do people feel when they’re on it?” The students’ work attempts to answer these questions, and include very plausible station prototypes, potential seating arrangements for the pods and a full-scale wooden mock-up of a Hyperloop capsule. The Hyperloop Today The enthusiasm of transportation professionals, scientists, engineers and students has proved contagious. Hyperloop momentum has been building quickly since 2013, with more than 350 people from 21 countries now working on the project at HTT. New applicants continue to stream in as the company gets closer to breaking ground. The people who are chosen to work for HTT have to guarantee that they will be able to put in a minimum of 10 hours per week. They are then placed into a group that fits their expertise, concentrating on anything from route planning to capsule design to cost analysis. Team members work independently on the project, touching base several times a week, and connect for a weekly meeting with the team leader reporting to Ahlborn. The company isn’t alone in its ambitions, however. In early 2015, the similarly named Hyperloop Technologies was formed. Headed by former SpaceX engineer Brogan BamBrogan and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, Hyperloop Technologies seems a formidable competitor, adding fuel to a race that’s captured the world’s attention. HTT is planning an initial public offering by late 2015 or early 2016 to raise the funds needed to keep the project moving forward. Shortly after that, the company plans to break ground on a functioning, full-scale, 5-mile version of the Hyperloop in Quay Valley, Calif. Halfway between LA and San Francisco, Quay Valley is a planned community that will be built by developer Quay Hays on 7,500 empty acres, using modern and sustainable technology as its skeleton. “They’re building a city with all the technology of today, with the newest … technologies where they’re reusing water,” Ahlborn explains. “If everybody would build a city like this, then we wouldn’t have a drought problem in California. The city is going to be 100 percent solar-powered, so if you live there, you’re not going to have an electricity bill. Obviously, the Hyperloop fits in perfectly.” According to Ahlborn, the mini-Hyperloop on the private property of Quay Valley will help HTT figure out how to optimize passenger boarding and capsule handling, and ensure all systems work properly. The design of the pods may benefit from some outside help—from Musk himself. In June, Musk announced that SpaceX would build a 1-mile test track outside of the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. In June 2016, SpaceX will host a competition for university students and independent engineering teams to see who can build the best pod. Although Musk still isn’t planning to build the Hyperloop himself, this is his way to ensure the project continues to move forward. Even when all the kinks are worked out and the designs for the full-sized Hyperloop are finalized, it still won’t be time to make the original vision a reality. Bureaucracy is slowing the process, but the HTT team remains encouraged. “Once we’re done with Quay Valley, we already know that we’re going to start building several other Hyperloops around the world,” Ahlborn says. “We have plenty of people standing in line interested in working with us, but when you start in the U.S., it will take much longer than if you start the same moment in a place like, say, Asia.” However the Hyperloop ends up getting constructed, it is clear that the system will change transportation in a way that the world hasn’t seen in nearly 100 years, when commercial air travel became a feasible way to move from place to place. “I normally compare it to the train coming to the U.S.,” Ahlborn explains. “When the train system connected the East Coast and the West Coast, it completely opened up a new world. The Hyperloop will change everything from the way people are living to where they are living.” TRANSPORTATION TO WATCH Despite leaps and bounds made in technology over the past century, transportation’s advancement has been slow, comparatively. There hasn’t been a dramatic update to personal transport since the jet was introduced in 1939, but several corporations are working to change that. Here are a few developments that are on the horizon. AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES Major corporations like Google have been trying to make driverless cars a reality for years. The major setbacks include state regulations and slow acceptance by wary potential users. While placing a human life in the hands of a robot car sounds too risky for many, car corporations, including Tesla Motors, have begun offering small tastes of the technology piecemeal. These advancements include cars that self-park or pick drivers up when summoned. ELECTRIC DRIVETRAIN Electric drivetrains have many benefits over their ubiquitous fossil-fueled alternatives, including being more powerful, compact and efficient. They also don’t produce any local air emissions, unlike their messy, internal-combustion engine cousins. The best part is, they’re available now, and Tesla has announced plans to have a $30,000 model available in the next couple of years. SELF-ILLUMINATING HIGHWAYS From glow-in-the-dark lines painted on highways in the Netherlands to interactive lights that reduce the use of electricity on empty roads, the race is on to find a better way than electric street lamps to illuminate routes. Some companies are experimenting on building roadways that can utilize kinetic energy from the cars passing over them to power streetlights.
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