Elon Musk has brought a paradigm shift in the world of transportation and energy with his revolutionary ideas. From SpaceX to Tesla Motors to SolarCity, the industrial tycoon has brought many incredible models to life. However, the concept of a Hyperloop is perhaps the most ambitious of all.
Musk proposed the idea of a transportation system which seems like something from a sci-fi movie. Dubbed the Hyperloop, the layout will consist of an extensive system of partially evacuated tubes that will provide air-cushion to the 28-seater pods floating inside them. The capsules will be driven by the electromagnetic attraction inside the partially evacuated tubes, aided by fan propulsion.
This bold yet fascinatingly interesting model of transportation will allegedly take the commuters from San Francisco to LA in a mere 35 minutes! The idea was so bizarre and eccentric that the 58-page blueprints of the plans released by Musk did not warrant any significant attention from the scientific or engineering community.
However, the time to test the validity of the plans released by Musk is drawing closer. This week will witness one of the most significant spectacles of the transportation industry. A startup, named the Hyperloop Technologies, is out to test the proposed system in Nevada. Backed by the faithful VCs, the first public testing will be carried out on an open-air trail.
The VP of design in the startup, christened Josh Giegel, is optimistic about achieving a speed as high as 400 miles/hour. Albeit his trust in this seemingly implausible idea, Giegel agrees that the general masses and the governments will not accept the reality of the Hyperloop until it becomes a reality; as he puts it:
“The thing about Hyperloop is that it does not exist until it actually exists.”
The being prepared for the public tests has a diameter of 11-feet and is 60-feet in length. The design team aims to complete the levitation track, with the embedded electromagnets inside it. The story of Hyperloop Technologies is an impressive tale of audacity and mettle; a saga of their journey from a garage in LA to an abandoned factory in the LA housing an ever active population of more than 140 engineers and designers.
The original blueprints of the Hyperloop proposed the installation of photovoltaic cells on the surface of the tubes that would power the acceleration spots (essentially electromagnets) to provide a magnetic pull to the floating pods inside the tube. The air cushion will ensure reduced friction, enabling the capsules to smooth along smoothly, with the acceleration points spaced around 40 to 50 miles. However, the company aims to design the Hyperloop such that it is compatible with all power sources, to ensure that the system is feasible to be implemented in all weather conditions and geographical locations.
The most astounding aspect of the tests to be conducted this week is not the concept itself, rather it is the surprisingly short period of two years that the Hyperloop Technologies took to bring this idea to life. The key behind this rapid progress is the implementation of the core principles of reiteration and run-time modification used in the software engineering projects.
Unlike the hardware industry big-wigs, the startup team takes pride in their adopted approach of continuous building, dismantling and rebuilding, stating that it provides them much more data to analyze and tweak.
Even though the plan proposed by Musk was meant for human transportation, Hyperloop Technologies has much bigger plans for their daring venture.
Despite their obvious faith in the project, the company has also been subject to valid criticism from quite a few renowned names in the transportation industry. The Harvard professor of urban planning and public policy, Jose Gomez-Ibanez has questioned the profitability of the venture citing that the airplanes do not need to lay down their tracks over hundreds of miles. However, the design engineers of Hyperloop have countered this argument stating that the pods will use regenerative braking systems to regain the lost energy and the magnetic pull combined with the levitation will make the system significantly more efficient than the railway tracks. On the other hand, the airplanes lose a tremendous amount of energy as they rise to an altitude of thousands of feet, none of which is regained by them.
The critics arguing about the expensive cost of laying down the tracks is convinced by the commercial application of the project and the prospective efficiency that it may bring to the freight transport.
Successful or not, after the public tests this week, Hyperloop will transform the face of the transportation industry as we know it.
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