By: Margot Leckron
Hyperloop is a transportation idea developed by engineer Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX. This science-fiction-esque theory of transportation relies on the idea minimizing friction to maximize potential speed. After Elon Musk released his design to the public in 2013, start-up companies have cropped up to make this dream a reality.
Musk’s original idea was based on using air bearings to create a cushion of air, generated by the high speed of the pod in the vacuum tube. To put it in simpler terms, this process is “similar to how an air hockey puck floats, except the jets of air come from the puck”, according to a video by Gizmodo. Theoretically the pod can reach a speed of up to 760 miles per hour and requires less energy to power because of its frictionless nature.
One of the start-up companies working to develop hyperloop is Hyperloop One. This company uses a method called magnetic levitation, similar to techniques used for high speed trains in Japan, China, and Germany. During a test run on May 11, the test sled accelerated to a speed around 400 mph in about 2 seconds and generated a force of about 2.5Gs, making Hyperloop One currently the leader in speed. However this model uses a lot of energy, which undermines one of the original benefits that hyperloop transportation provides.
Another company, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), has designed a system that is much more energy conservative. HTT’s hyperloop relies on a method called passive magnetic levitation which takes no energy to power. The system relies on a technology based on a extremely powerful magnet configuration and propulsion system called Inductrack. Though this method has not yet been tested and the technology has never been used for transportation, theoretically it should work and the technology will be able to be implemented. One concern is that the method, which requires magnets to be on board the pod, will greatly increase the weight of the pod and thus decrease the speed. This cannot be known until testing.
MIT Hyperloop is one of the most recent organizations to emerge. Currently all it has is a pod design, but that design will be tested on SpaceX’s test track later this year. MIT’s method to move the pod is similar to HTT’s method of using specifically arranged magnets to create a very powerful magnetic field.
Two main problems have emerged with using hyperloop aside from creating the technology: The G force the high speeds will create and the cost. Although some companies, namely Hyperloop One, are planning to use their design just for cargo, most others plan to use it for transportation of people. If the G force increases beyond 4Gs most people will be uncomfortable and exposure to G force beyond that for long periods of time could cause internal damage to passengers. The up front cost of building track systems and pods is often projected to be in the ten millions, and might not be economically feasible for most companies or countries.