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Concept art of Hyperloop inner workings

Hyperloop is a proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation that would propel a pod-like vehicle through a reduced-pressure tube[1] that could potentially exceed airliner speeds. The alpha version of the proposal, published on the SpaceX website, describes design claims of the system, as well as its function.[1] The pods would accelerate to cruising speed gradually using a linear electric motor and glide above their track using passive magnetic levitation or air bearings. The tubes could also go above ground on columns or underground, eliminating the dangers of grade crossings. It is hoped that the system will be highly energy-efficient, quiet, and autonomous.

The concept, created by Elon Musk in 2012,[2][1] incorporates reduced-pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on an air cushion driven by linear induction motors and air compressors.[3]

The outline of the original Hyperloop concept was made public by the release of a preliminary design document in August 2013, which included a suggested route running from the Los Angeles region to the San Francisco Bay Area, paralleling the Interstate 5 corridor for most of its length. Preliminary analysis indicated that such a route might obtain an expected journey time of 35 minutes, meaning that passengers would traverse the 350-mile (560 km) route at an average speed of around 600 mph (970 km/h), with a top speed of 760 mph (1,200 km/h), which is a great improvement compared to the current travel time of about six hours. Preliminary cost estimates for the LA–SF suggested route were included in the white paper—US$6 billion for a passenger-only version, and US$7.5 billion for a somewhat larger-diameter version transporting passengers and vehicles[1] —although transportation analysts had doubts that the system could be constructed on that budget; some analysts claimed that the Hyperloop would be several billion dollars overbudget due to construction, development and operation costs.[4][5][6]

The Hyperloop concept has been explicitly open-sourced by Musk and SpaceX, and others have been encouraged to take the ideas and further develop them.

To that end, a few companies have been formed, and several interdisciplinary student-led teams are working to advance the technology.[7] SpaceX is building an approximately 1-mile-long (1.6 km) subscale track for its pod design competition at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California.[8]

Most experts are skeptical, saying that the proposals ignore the expenses and risks of developing the technology and that the idea is "completely impractical".[9] Claims have also been made that the Hyperloop is too susceptible to disruption from a power outage or terror attacks to be considered safe.[9]

Contents

HistoryEdit

The general idea of trains or other transportation traveling through evacuated tubes dates back more than a century although the atmospheric railway was never a commercial success.

Musk first mentioned that he was thinking about a concept for a "fifth mode of transport", calling it the Hyperloop, in July 2012 at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica, California. This hypothetical high-speed mode of transportation would have the following characteristics: immunity to weather, collision free, twice the speed of a plane, low power consumption, and energy storage for 24-hour operations.[10] The name Hyperloop was chosen because it would go in a loop. Musk envisions the more advanced versions will be able to go at hypersonic speed.[11] In May 2013, Musk likened the Hyperloop to a "cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table".[12]

From late 2012 until August 2013, a group of engineers from both Tesla and SpaceX worked on the conceptual modeling of Hyperloop.[13] An early system design was published in the Tesla and SpaceX blogs.[1][14] Musk has also invited feedback to "see if the people can find ways to improve it". The Hyperloop will be an open source design.[15] The following day he announced a plan to demonstrate the project.[13][needs update]

In June 2015, SpaceX announced that it would build a 1-mile-long (1.6 km) test track to be located next to SpaceX's Hawthorne facility. The track would be used to test pod designs supplied by third parties in the competition.[16][17]

By November 2015, with several commercial companies and dozens of student teams pursuing the development of Hyperloop technologies, the Wall Street Journal asserted that "The Hyperloop Movement, as some of its unaffiliated members refer to themselves, is officially bigger than the man who started it."[18]

The MIT Hyperloop team developed the first Hyperloop pod prototype, which they unveiled at the MIT Museum on May 13, 2016. Their design was based on electrodynamic suspension for levitating and used eddy current braking.[19]

On January 29, 2017, approximately one year after winning phase one of the Hyperloop pod competition,[20] the MIT Hyperloop pod demonstrated the first ever low-pressure Hyperloop run in the world.[21]

Theory and operationEdit

 
Artist's impression of a Hyperloop capsule: Air compressor on the front, passenger compartment in the middle, battery compartment at the back, and air caster skis at the bottom
 
A 3D sketch of the Hyperloop infrastructure. The steel tubes are rendered transparent in this image.

Developments in high-speed rail have historically been impeded by the difficulties in managing friction and air resistance, both of which become substantial when vehicles approach high speeds. The vactrain concept theoretically eliminates these obstacles by employing magnetically levitating trains in evacuated (airless) or partly evacuated tubes, allowing for speeds of thousands of miles per hour. However, the high cost of maglev and the difficulty of maintaining a vacuum over large distances has prevented this type of system from ever being built. The Hyperloop resembles a vactrain system but operates at approximately one millibar (100 Pa) of pressure.[22]

Initial design conceptEdit

The Hyperloop concept operates by sending specially designed "capsules" or "pods" through a steel tube maintained at a partial vacuum. In Musk's original concept, each capsule floats on a 0.02–0.05 in (0.5–1.3 mm) layer of air provided under pressure to air-caster "skis", similar to how pucks are suspended in an air hockey table, while still allowing for speeds that wheels cannot sustain. Hyperloop One's technology uses passive maglev for the same purpose. Linear induction motors located along the tube would accelerate and decelerate the capsule to the appropriate speed for each section of the tube route. With rolling resistance eliminated and air resistance greatly reduced, the capsules can glide for the bulk of the journey. In Musk's original Hyperloop concept, an electrically driven inlet fan and air compressor would be placed at the nose of the capsule to "actively transfer high-pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel," resolving the problem of air pressure building in front of the vehicle, slowing it down.[1] A fraction of the air is shunted to the skis for additional pressure, augmenting that gain passively from lift due to their shape. Hyperloop One's system does away with the compressor.

In the alpha-level concept, passenger-only pods are to be 7 ft 4 in (2.23 m) in diameter[1] and projected to reach a top speed of 760 mph (1,220 km/h) to maintain aerodynamic efficiency;[citation needed] the design proposes passengers experience a maximum inertial acceleration of 0.5 g, about 2 or 3 times that of a commercial airliner on takeoff and landing. At those speeds, there would not be a sonic boom.[23]

Proposed routesEdit

A number of routes have been proposed for Hyperloop systems that meet the approximate distance conditions for which a Hyperloop is hypothesized to provide improved transport times.

The route suggested in the 2013 alpha-level design document was from the Greater Los Angeles Area to the San Francisco Bay Area. That conceptual system would begin around Sylmar, just south of the Tejon Pass, follow Interstate 5 to the north, and arrive near Hayward on the east side of San Francisco Bay. Several proposed branches were also shown in the design document, including Sacramento, Anaheim, San Diego, and Las Vegas.[1]

Most of the active Hyperloop routes being planned currently are outside of the U.S. Hyperloop One published the world's first detailed business case for a 300-mile (500 km) route between Helsinki and Stockholm, which would tunnel under the Baltic Sea to connect the two capitals in under 30 minutes.[24] Hyperloop One is also well underway on a feasibility study with DP World to move containers from its Port of Jebel Ali in Dubai.[25] Hyperloop One on November 8, 2016 announced a new feasibility study with Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority for passenger and freight routes connecting Dubai with the greater United Arab Emirates. Hyperloop One is also working on passenger routes in Moscow[26][27] and a cargo Hyperloop to connect Hunchun in north-eastern China to the Port of Zarubino, near Vladivostok and the North Korean border on Russia's Far East.[28]

Others have put forward European routes, including a Paris to Amsterdam route proposed by Delft Hyperloop.[29][30] A Warsaw University of Technology team is evaluating potential routes from Cracow to Gdańsk across Poland proposed by Hyper Poland.[31]

Transpod is exploring the possibility of a Hyperloop route which would connect Toronto and Montreal.[32] The two cities, the largest in Canada, are currently connected by the Highway 401, the busiest highway in North America.[33]

No work has been done on the route proposed in Musk's alpha-design, with one cited reason being it would terminate on the fringes of the two major metropolitan areas (Los Angeles and San Francisco), resulting in significant cost savings in construction, but requiring that passengers traveling to and from Downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco, and any other community beyond Sylmar and Hayward, to transfer to another transportation mode in order to reach their final destination. This would significantly lengthen the total travel time to those destinations.[34]

A similar problem already affects present-day air travel, where on short routes (like LAX-SFO) the flight time is only a rather small part of door to door travel time. Critics have argued that this would significantly reduce the proposed cost and/or time savings of Hyperloop as compared to the California High-Speed Rail project that will serve downtown stations in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.[35][36][37] Passengers travelling financial centre to financial centre are estimated to save about two hours by taking the Hyperloop instead of driving the whole distance.[38]

Others questioned the cost projections for the suggested California route. Some transportation engineers argued in 2013 that they found the alpha-level design cost estimates unrealistically low given the scale of construction and reliance on unproven technology. The technological and economic feasibility of the idea is unproven and a subject of significant debate.[4][5][6][34]

HTT reportedly signed an agreement with the government of Slovakia in March 2016 to perform impact studies, with potential links between Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest, but there have been no developments on that since.[39] In January 2017, HTT signed an agreement to explore the route BratislavaBrnoPrague in Central Europe.[40]

HTT are also in process to sign a Letter of Intent with the Indian Government for a proposed route between Chennai and Bengaluru. If things go as planned, the distance of 345 km could be covered in 30 minutes.[41] Indore-based Dinclix GroundWorks' DGWHyperloop advocates a Hyperloop corridor between Mumbai and Delhi, passing via Indore, Kota and Jaipur.[42]

Open-source design evolutionEdit

In September 2013, Ansys Corporation ran computational fluid dynamics simulations to model the aerodynamics of the capsule and shear stress forces that the capsule would be subjected to. The simulation showed that the capsule design would need to be significantly reshaped to avoid creating supersonic airflow, and that the gap between the tube wall and capsule would need to be larger. Ansys employee Sandeep Sovani said the simulation showed that Hyperloop has challenges but that he is convinced it is feasible.[43][44]

In October 2013, the development team of the OpenMDAO software framework released an unfinished, conceptual open-source model of parts of the Hyperloop's propulsion system. The team asserted that the model demonstrated the concept's feasibility, although the tube would need to be 13 feet (4 m) in diameter,[45] significantly larger than originally projected. However, the team's model is not a true working model of the propulsion system, as it did not account for a wide range of technological factors required to physically construct a Hyperloop based on Musk's concept, and in particular had no significant estimations of component weight.[46]

In November 2013, MathWorks analyzed the proposal's suggested route and concluded that the route was mainly feasible. The analysis focused on the acceleration experienced by passengers and the necessary deviations from public roads in order to keep the accelerations reasonable; it did highlight that maintaining a trajectory along I-580 east of San Francisco at the planned speeds was not possible without significant deviation into heavily populated areas.[47]

In January 2015, a paper based on the NASA OpenMDAO open-source model reiterated the need for a larger diameter tube and a reduced cruise speed closer to Mach 0.85. It recommended removing on-board heat exchangers based on thermal models of the interactions between the compressor cycle, tube, and ambient environment. The compression cycle would only contribute 5% of the heat added to the tube, with 95% of the heat attributed to radiation and convection into the tube. The weight and volume penalty of on-board heat exchangers would not be worth the minor benefit, and regardless the steady-state temperature in the tube would only reach 30–40 °F (17–22 °C) above ambient temperature.[48]

According to Musk, various aspects of the Hyperloop have technology applications to other Musk interests, including surface transportation on Mars and electric jet propulsion.[49][50]

MarsEdit

According to Musk, Hyperloop would be useful on Mars as no tubes would be needed because Mars' atmosphere is about 1% the density of the Earth's.[11][51][52] For the Hyperloop concept to work on Earth, low-pressure tubes are required to reduce air resistance. However, if they were to be built on Mars, the lower air resistance would allow a Hyperloop to be created with no tube, only a track.[53]

Groups acquiring funding and building hardwareEdit

Hyperloop OneEdit

Hyperloop One was incorporated in 2014 and has built a team of 200 engineers, technicians, welders and machinists to build the world's first commercial Hyperloop system. It has raised more than US$160 million in capital from investors including DP World, Sherpa Capital, Formation 8, 137 Ventures, Caspian Venture Capital, Fast Digital, GE Ventures, and SNCF.[54]

Hyperloop One Executive Chairman Shervin Pishevar, a venture capitalist with strong connections to Elon Musk, is one of the two co-founders, along with Josh Giegel, a lead engineer for Musk's SpaceX. Even though Elon Musk has no business association with Hyperloop One, there are many other connections to Musk throughout the company. David Sacks is on the board of directors and he worked under Musk at PayPal.[55]

On May 11, 2016 Hyperloop One conducted the first live trial of Hyperloop technology, demonstrating that its custom linear electric motor could propel a sled from 0 to 110 miles an hour in just over one second.[56] The acceleration exerted approximately 2.5 G on the bogie. The bogie was stopped at the end of the test by hitting a pile of sand at the end of the track because Hyperloop One has not yet designed the brakes for the system.[57]

In July 2016, Hyperloop One released a preliminary study that suggested a Hyperloop connection between Helsinki and Stockholm would be feasible, reducing the travel time between the cities to half an hour. The construction costs were estimated by Hyperloop One to be around €19 billion (US$21 billion at 2016 exchange rates).[58]

In November 2016, Hyperloop One disclosed that it has established a high-level working group relationship with the governments of Finland and the Netherlands to study the viability of building Hyperloop proof of operations centers in those countries. Hyperloop One also has a feasibility study underway with Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority for passenger systems in the UAE.[59] Other feasibility studies are underway in Russia, Los Angeles and Switzerland.

Hyperloop Transportation TechnologiesEdit

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is a group of more than 800 engineers and professionals located around the world. Some collaborate part time; others are full-time employees and contributors. Some members are full-time paid employees; others work in exchange for salary and stock options.

HTT announced in May 2015 that a deal had been finalized with landowners to build a 5-mile (8 km) test track along a stretch of road near Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco.[60] In December, 2016, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and the government of Abu Dhabi announced plans to conduct a feasibility study on a Hyperloop link between the UAE capital and Al Ain, reducing travel time between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain to just under 10-minutes.[61]

TransPodEdit

TransPod in 2016 introduced a new pod design as a prototype vehicle for field testing. In March 2016, TransPod announced that they will present a full-scale concept vehicle design at the InnoTrans Rail Show in Berlin in September 2016.[62]

The vehicle is being designed to target speeds in excess of 1000 km/h, based on computer-driven control, with infrastructure capable of being solar-powered.[63] TransPod has announced a plan to produce a commercial vehicle by 2020.[64] and to work with regulatory agencies for approval of its first hyperloop lines between 2020-25.[65] The Montreal-Toronto corridor is one of the lines under consideration by TransPod.[66] TransPod has headquarters in Toronto. It is collaborating with aerospace companies, university researchers, and an architecture firm in Europe.[62][66][67][68]

Hyperloop pod competitionEdit

A number of student and non-student teams are participating in a Hyperloop pod competition in 2015–16, and at least 22 of them will build hardware to compete on a sponsored hyperloop test track in mid-2016.[69]

In June 2015, SpaceX announced that they would sponsor a Hyperloop pod design competition, and would build a 1-mile-long (1.6 km) subscale test track near SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California for the competitive event in 2016.[70][71] SpaceX stated in their announcement, "Neither SpaceX nor Elon Musk is affiliated with any Hyperloop companies. While we are not developing a commercial Hyperloop ourselves, we are interested in helping to accelerate development of a functional Hyperloop prototype."[72]

More than 700 teams had submitted preliminary applications by July,[73] and detailed competition rules were released in August.[74] Intent to Compete submissions were due in September 2015 with more detailed tube and technical specification released by SpaceX in October. A preliminary design briefing was held in November 2015, where more than 120 student engineering teams were selected to submit Final Design Packages due by January 13, 2016.[75]

A Design Weekend was held at Texas A&M University January 29–30, 2016, for all invited entrants.[76] Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were named the winners of the competition. Finishing second was Delft University of Technology from the Netherlands, followed by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Virginia Tech, and the University of California, Irvine.[69][77] While the MIT team took best overall, Delft University won the Pod Innovation Award.[78] 22 teams will be invited to build hardware and compete in time trials later in 2016 at Hawthorne, California.[69][75]

On January 29, 2017, Delft Hyperloop (Delft University of Technology) won the final stage of the SpaceX Hyperloop competition[79], ahead of the Technical University of Munich and Polytechnic University of Valencia.[80]

Criticism and human factor considerationsEdit

Some critics of Hyperloop focus on the experience—possibly unpleasant and frightening—of riding in a narrow, sealed, and windowless capsule inside a sealed steel tunnel, that is subjected to significant acceleration forces; high noise levels due to air being compressed and ducted around the capsule at near-sonic speeds; and the vibration and jostling.[81] Even if the tube is initially smooth, ground may shift due to seismic activity. At high speeds, even minor deviations from a straight path may add considerable buffeting.[82] This is in addition to the obvious practical and logistical questions regarding how to best deal with equipment malfunction, accidents, and emergency evacuations.

There is also the criticism of design technicalities in the tube system. Prof. John Hansman has stated problems, such as how a slight misalignment in the tube would be compensated for and the potential interplay between the air cushion and the low-pressure air. He has also questioned what would happen if the power were to go out and the pod was miles away from a city. Prof. Richard Muller has also expressed concern regarding "[the Hyperloop's] novelty and the vulnerability of its tubes, [which] would be a tempting target for terrorists", and that the system could be disrupted by everyday dirt and grime.[9]

Political and economic considerationsEdit

The alpha proposal projected that cost savings compared with conventional rail would come from a combination of several factors. The small profile and elevated nature of the alpha route would enable Hyperloop to be constructed primarily in the median of Interstate 5. However, whether this would be truly feasible is a matter of debate. The low profile would reduce tunnel boring requirements and the light weight of the capsules is projected to reduce construction costs over conventional passenger rail. It was asserted that there would be less right-of-way opposition and environmental impact as well due to its small, sealed, elevated profile versus that of a rail easement;[1] however, other commentators contend that a smaller footprint does not guarantee less opposition.[34] In criticizing this assumption, mass transportation writer Alon Levy said,[83] "In reality, an all-elevated system (which is what Musk proposes with the Hyperloop) is a bug rather than a feature. Central Valley land is cheap; pylons are expensive, as can be readily seen by the costs of elevated highways and trains all over the world".[84] Michael Anderson, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, predicted that costs would amount to around US$100 billion.[5]

The Hyperloop white paper suggests that US$20 of each one-way passenger ticket between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be sufficient to cover initial capital costs, based on amortizing the cost of Hyperloop over 20 years with ridership projections of 7.4 million per year in each direction and does not include operating costs (although the proposal asserts that electric costs would be covered by solar panels). No total ticket price was suggested in the alpha design.[1] The projected ticket price has been questioned by Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, who told Al Jazeera America that "there's no way the economics on that would ever work out."[5]

The early cost estimates of the Hyperloop are a subject of debate. A number of economists and transportation experts have expressed the belief that the US$6 billion price tag dramatically understates the cost of designing, developing, constructing and testing an all-new form of transportation.[4][5][34][84] The Economist said that the estimates are unlikely to "be immune to the hypertrophication of cost that every other grand infrastructure project seems doomed to suffer."[85]

Political impediments to the construction of such a project in California will be very large. There is a great deal of "political and reputation capital" invested in the existing mega-project of California High-Speed Rail.[85] Replacing that with a different design would not be straightforward given California's political economy. Texas has been suggested as an alternate for its more amenable political and economic environment.[85]

Building a successful Hyperloop sub-scale demonstration project could reduce the political impediments and improve cost estimates. Musk has suggested that he may be personally involved in building a demonstration prototype of the Hyperloop concept, including funding the development effort.[13][85]

The solar panels Musk plans to install along the length of the Hyperloop system have been criticized by Prof. Roger Goodall, as not being feasible enough to return enough energy to power the Hyperloop system, arguing that the air pumps and propulsion would require much more power than the solar panels could generate.[9]

Related projectsEdit

HistoricalEdit

The concept of transportation of passengers in pneumatic tubes is not new. The first patent to transport goods in tubes was taken out in 1799 by the British mechanical engineer and inventor George Medhurst. In 1812, Medhurst wrote a book detailing his idea of transporting passengers and goods through air-tight tubes using air propulsion.[86]

In the early 1800s, there were other similar systems proposed or experimented with and were generally known as an Atmospheric railway.

The Crystal Palace pneumatic railway operated in London around 1864 and used large fans, some 22 ft (6.7 m) in diameter, that were powered by a steam engine. The tunnels are now lost but the line operated successfully for over a year.

Operated from 1870 to 1873, the Beach Pneumatic Transit was a one-block-long prototype of an underground tube transport public transit system in New York City. The system worked at near-atmospheric pressure, and the passenger car moved by means of higher-pressure air applied to the back of the car while somewhat lower pressure was maintained on the front of the car.[87]

In the 1910s, vacuum trains were first described by American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard.[85] While the Hyperloop has significant innovations over early proposals for reduced pressure or vacuum-tube transportation apparatus, the work of Goddard "appears to have the greatest overlap with the Hyperloop".[3]

Princeton Physicist Gerard K. O'Neill wrote about transcontinental trains using magnetic propulsion in his book "2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future". While a work of fiction, this book was an attempt to predict future technologies in everyday life. In his prediction, he envisioned these trains which used magnetic levitation running in underground tunnels which had much of the air evacuated to increase speed and reduce friction. He also demonstrated a scale prototype device that accelerated a mass using magnetic propulsion to high speeds. It was called a mass driver and was a central theme in his non-fiction book on space colonization "The High Frontier".

Swissmetro was a proposal to run a maglev train in a low-pressure environment. Concessions were granted to Swissmetro in the early 2000s to connect the Swiss cities of St. Gallen, Zurich, Basel, and Geneva. Studies of commercial feasibility reached differing conclusions and the vactrain was never built.[88]

China was reported to be building a vacuum based 600 mph (1,000 km/h) maglev train in August 2010 according to a laboratory at Jiaotong University. It was expected to cost CN¥10–20 million (US$2.95 million at the August 2010 exchange rate) more per kilometer than regular high-speed rail.[89] As of May 2017, it has not been built.

CurrentEdit

The ET3 Global Alliance (ET3) was founded by Daryl Oster in 1997 with the goal of establishing a global transportation system using passenger capsules in frictionless maglev full-vacuum tubes. Oster and his team met with Elon Musk on September 18, 2013, to discuss the technology,[90] resulting in Musk promising an investment in a 3-mile (5 km) prototype of ET3's proposed design.[91][needs update]

Popular cultureEdit

There are multiple examples of depressurized tubes in literature and media going back to the nineteenth century. Harry Harrison's 1972 book Tunnel Through the Deeps is an early steampunk book that gives explicit details about how such a system would work both on land and at sea - including the use of underwater bridges to float the tubes across the depths beyond the continental shelf. Gene Roddenberry's follow-on to Star Trek, Genesis II, used a very similar concept – called a "subshuttle" in the program – to move characters from place to place quickly.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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