The Hyperloop is a new transportation model that is expected to be faster and cheaper than aeroplanes. It consists of a train like pod travelling at speeds of 900-1200 kmph inside a low-pressure tube. A low-pressure tube is one from which most air has been pumped out. Why? Air offers resistance to motion and less energy is required to propel in near vacuum.
The idea that trains can run at supersonic speeds inside a vacuum tube has been a science concept for around a century. Pneumatic tubes have also been used to transport letters in New York and Germany. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, sketched up the modern idea of Hyperloop and presented it as an open source competition for the engineering community to develop. Right now, the two major companies spearheading this development are Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.
How Does Hyperloop Work?
Hyperloop consists of a train like pod which will seat passengers and cargo, just like a modern train or plane. Unlike rails which cause friction, it is going to glide above its track by magnetic levitation and air pressure. Air hockey tables have fans below that create a high pressure on the board and makes things above it float like a hovercraft. The Maglev train in Shanghai uses the technology of opposing magnetic fields to keep the whole train few millimetres above the track.
The pod will most likely (not decided yet) be propelled by air compressors in the front. Supersonic speeds will be achievable because most of the air will have been pumped out in the sealed tubes. The tubes can be both elevated or underground.
Where Is It Currently Used?
Right now, the Hyperloop is being tested and is not commercially available anywhere. The main tests are being carried out in the desert of California. The developers claim that Hyperloop will be faster and cheaper than the proposed high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It takes an hour to fly between the two cities, while Hyperloop will be able to do this in just 30 minutes. The United Arab Emirates is keen to build one between the megacities Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Both the Hyperloop companies have recently pitched the idea to the Indian Government. Hyperloop India has laid out the following possibilities for India:
Bangalore – Chennai – 20 minutes
Bangalore – Trivandrum – 40 minutes
Delhi – Mumbai – 80 minutes
Mumbai – Chennai via Bangalore – 63 minutes
Mumbai – Kolkata – 190 minutes
Source: Hyperloop One Facebook Page
Well yes, the Hyperloop can be powered by solar panels on top of the tubes provided that much of investment is made for them. Do note that trains too can be powered by solar and wind considering the vast amount of areas available on the roof of stations and other places. But yes, an aeroplane can’t be powered by renewable energy right now because solar panels have to become around 1500 times more efficient to run a commercial plane, and batteries will add 1.5 times the weight of the plane. Also since Hyperloop will operate in a low-pressure environment, it could consume lesser energy than high-speed trains.
How Much Will A Ticket Cost?
This is unclear at the moment. Even if it is equivalent to flight prices, Hyperloop will have the advantage of higher speed and lesser overall time consumed, especially for short duration flights. A plane is dependent on weather (no more delays due to fog), airports have to be located outside the city and taxing takes time – all of these will not be a problem with Hyperloop.
When Can We Expect It?
The first commercial Hyperloop is expected to start between Abu Dhabi and Dubai in two years time. This journey will take only 12 minutes instead of two hours by road.
Will It Be Safe And Comfortable?
The Hyperloop has not yet been tested at the super speeds. Considering that it goes inside a tube without obstruction, it can be safer than other modes of transport. Yes, the super speeds are a concern for safety but the developers are confident that with computer automation and isolation, safety will be ensured. They could also start with cargo transportation first, and then move to humans. Since it will glide like a Maglev train, it will have lesser vibrations than high-speed rails and it being sealed in a tube, there won’t be any turbulences due to weather. You won’t feel the super high speeds because we feel acceleration, not velocity.
Check out this cool video that shows life in the future with the Hyperloop in the UAE: