Photo Attribution: Camilo Sanchez / Wikimedia Commons

Hyperloop

Hyperloop is a proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation where a pod-like capsule is propelled through a low-pressure tube using electric propulsion and magnetic levitation. The Hyperloop concept was originally introduced in August 2013 by Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, in a 58-page white paper called “Hyperloop Alpha.” In the paper, Musk provides details such as how the Hyperloop technology could work, how much it might cost, and the hurdles for it to become a reality. Musk suggests the technology could become the “fifth mode of transportation” after trains, cars, planes, and boats.

Current Status

There are currently three companies developing Hyperloop-style systems: Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), and TransPod. In March 2017, Hyperloop One announced it built the world’s first full-scale Hyperloop test track in the Nevada desert, which has been named Development Loop, or DevLoop.  HTT, on the other hand, announced in March 2017 that they had begun construction of the world’s first full-scale passenger capsule, which will be officially delivered in early 2018 at their R&D center in Toulouse, France. Canada-based TransPod states that their technology differs from the other Hyperloop companies in that they are developing their own technology from scratch as opposed to using pre-existing or standard technology. The company recently opened three offices in Canada, Italy and France to support global operations and plans to release their Hyperloop system by 2020.

Universities around the world are also involved in the research and development of the technology. In January 2017, universities competed in a Hyperloop competition held by SpaceX at their one mile test track in Hawthorne, California. The next round of the competition will test maximum speed.

Possible Benefits

The introduction of Hyperloop has stimulated talk and ideas of what the technology can accomplish. We have outlined some potential benefits below:

Potential for very high speeds of 700 mph, which would yield greatly reduced travel time and could alter the way we travel for pleasure or work

Less energy consumption on a per mile basis for passenger and freight transport

Potential for substantially reduced freight delivery times

Supplemental capacity for the highway, transit, railroad and aviation systems

Potential for reduced construction and maintenance costs compared to other long-distance travel modes

Potentially more resilient to the effects of weather (wind, ice, fog, and rain) as compared to other travel modes

Possible Limitations

A technology as radical as the Hyperloop system will surely face a number of hurdles before being approved for commercial use. We have outlined some of the potential limitations of the technology below:

Safety and reliability when dealing with factors such as very high speeds, power outages, capsule depressurization, and/or geological activity

Limited route flexibility compared to other long distance travel modes; aircrafts have the ability to change routes if there are geographic shifts in demand

When considering passenger comfort, high travel speeds will limit curve radii and departure/arrival speeds

Limited capacity compared to other long distance travel modes, which may limit its potential to serve significant percentages of total intercity passenger or freight demand

Obtaining sufficient funding and acquiring necessary property/easements will limit opportunities in potential alignments between locations

Looking for more info?

Fehr & Peers will continue to devote some of our R&D resources to evaluating emerging technologies such as Hyperloop so we can keep our clients informed and help them navigate this rapidly changing landscape.