The Hyperloop Is The Theoretical Transit System That Could Slash Your Commute

Brilliance | Dec. 14, 2017

Imagine you're getting ready to visit family for the holidays and you've got a 400-mile trip ahead of you. How long would that take? If you drove, it would probably take six hours. If you took a train, it might take all day. Now imagine a transit system that would get you that far in around a half hour. That's the promise of the Hyperloop.

How It Might Work

The Hyperloop was first posed in July of 2012 by SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder and futurist Elon Musk, who unveiled the details of his idea in a blog post just over a year later. Here's how it's supposed to work: people (or cars, even) sit inside of aluminum pods, which themselves are enclosed in twin steel tubes that run along an elevated route. The pods would float on a cushion of air and accelerate on a series of magnets the way modern maglev trains do already. Regularly placed air pumps lower the pressure inside the tubes, which would reduce friction enough to make subsonic speeds possible—we're talking up to 800 miles per hour. Solar panels on top of the tunnels could generate the electricity the system needs.

Of course, plenty of thinkers have proposed big ideas about transportation in the past, but not many of them have come to fruition. The MIT Technology Review points out why the Hyperloop is different: "Although the design was ambitious to the point of being outlandish, none of its components were fundamentally unproven, something often overlooked."

Why It's Nearly Reality

Elon Musk is a busy man, so he released an outline of his idea and invited the rest of the world to take a crack at it. Two companies stepped up: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Hyperloop One. The race was on: on May 9, 2016, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies announced that it had licensed the passive magnetic levitation technology that its system was designed to use. A few days later, Hyperloop One performed the first public test of a Hyperloop system, which ran a metal sled down 2,000 feet of track in the Las Vegas desert. The development has only gotten more heated since: in January of 2017, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies announced the building of a 3,000 square-meter (38,000 square-foot) facility in Toulouse, France, which will be used to manufacture a system to connect Bratislava, Slovakia to Brno in the Czech Republic. Who knows what could happen next?

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