Hyperloop is a travel technology which was initially proposed by billionaire and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, that which focuses mainly on transporting humans from one destination to another with the help of air evacuated vacuum tubes. Hence, it has been predicted that, once the work is done, it will move with a speed which will be more than the fastest moving land-vehicle, ever known to human so far.
Initial concept and design
The initial concept for the design has been proposed by different people in different ways. However, the general concept is that the travel pods (or capsules) will be placed and allowed to travel in a partially air-filled steel vacuum tube. With the rolling resistance greatly reduced and the air resistance well minimized, the capsules will be able to glide for the most part of the journey through the tube. The effect caused while travelling will be similar to that of how pucks are levitated above air hockey table. However, the cost for maintaining a vacuum over a large distance and the Magnetic levitation (Maglev) technologies that should be used in these pods, have prevented them from ever being constructed over time.
The Virgin Hyperloop One
One of the companies involved in bringing this technology into effect, “Virgin Hyperloop One”, are on track to achieve their ambition of bringing a hyperloop system into operation by 2021. Virgin Hyperloop’s concept is to produce a pod that which is deviating slightly from Musk’s original plan. Virgin Hyperloop One’s technology combines two basic principles. The first is Maglev, a technology already used in monorails to lift the passenger pods and move them along their rails. Magnetic levitation uses two sets of magnets; one to repel the train from the track and lift it upwards and the other to move the floating train along the track at considerable speed with reduced friction. The second principle is the use of low pressure, vacuum sealed environment for the passenger pods to travel through. By removing most of the air from the tubes and having no contact with the ground, the pods face little to no resistance as they move. The air pressure inside the tube is equivalent to flying 200,00 feet above the sea level. Such environment enables the pods to reach speeds of over 760 mph using very little energy. The system will be protected from the weather and will be able to operate in almost any climatic condition. Virgin Hyperloop One’s system is controlled by advance software that ensures acceleration and deceleration occurs gradually, going relatively unnoticed by those travelling inside. Having built a 500-meter track in the Nevada desert, Virgin Hyperloop One have carried out several tests focusing on individual aspects of the system and a complete full-scale system test in May 2017. The propulsion, braking, levitation and vacuum systems are all performing well and the team have achieved a top speed of 240 mph to date.
The places where hyperloops will be built
To inform their plans for developing a fully operational network that is affordable for all, Virgin Hyperloop One launched a global challenge to find the routes best placed to benefit from Hyperloop technology. With over 2,600 entries, the field was reduced to just 35 potential locations – with each entry enjoying with strong support from government and urban planners. With 10 winners across five countries, Virgin Hyperloop One are now working in partnership with each of the locations on how to best deliver the hyperloop technologies in live networks. In February 2018, the firm unveiled their first prototype passenger pods for the Dubai – Abu Dhabi Hyperloop route, a network that would drastically slash the car travel time between the two cities from 2 hours to just 12 minutes. In terms of Sri Lanka, this is similar to travelling from Kandy to Colombo in just less than 7 minutes.
Advantages of Hyperloop
Like train stations, Hyperloop stations called, “Portals” are planned to be located within inner city areas with easy links to existing transport infrastructure. This gives hyperloop systems a distinct advantage over air travel, where airports tend to be located beyond city limits with fewer accessibility options. Additionally, the system is being developed to function on a “turn up and go” principle without a lengthy check-in process and with accelerated, advanced security checks. Another clear benefit is its speed. If hyperloop could significantly reduce the travel time between cities, it could be possible to live in a completely different city or part of the country from where you work with not wanting waste your precious time on just travelling itself. This opens up a wide range of housing and employment opportunities with people no longer restricted to have living close to where they work. It could also take pressure off the cities where the infrastructure is often still catching up with development. Hence, it can be considered that hyperloop has the potential to completely revolutionize the way we live, work and travel. A hyperloop system requires very little energy to propel pods through its tubes as the vacuum environment poses little resistance. As such, the systems could be powered by renewable technologies such as solar and wind, offering a considerably cleaner alternative to air travel.
When you consider the prospect of people being propelled in tubes across the Earth’s surface at near supersonic speeds, there are a number of questions that will jump to your mind immediately. The first is the impact of a potential break or breach in one of the tubes, possibly as the result of an earthquake or external impact. Virgin Hyperloop one explains that they have their idea to solve this by constructing thick steel tubes that are extremely difficult to puncture or break. Additionally, the tubes are engineered to withstand changes in pressure and air leaks while maintaining their structure. Theoretically a sudden influx of air into one of the tubes would simply slow the pods down due to the increased air resistance. The pods could then be directed to the next portal via an auxiliary power boost. There is also the ability to section off parts of the route and to re-pressurize sections where significant emergencies occur and all pods are expected to be fitted with emergency exits. Externally, hyperloop systems will largely travel on elevated pillar like structures that are able to move and flex independently of one another minimizing damage in the event of a major ground shift. Sensors along the route would instantly report issues to the systems control center. In answering the natural safety concerns raised, Virgin Hyperloop One also point out that millions of people already travel at high speeds in metal tubes every time they take a flight, and the numerous questions that were asked when jet aircraft transportation first came to prevalence.
While the idea of hyperloop may seem far-fetched, when you consider the industrial progress made in the past 200 years, the current rate of technological usage in our societies and the significant advances being made by hyperloop companies around the world, this incredible new transportation system looks like the one which is set to become as part of our everyday life in the very near future.