Technology behind Hyperloop and how this superfast mode is going to advance Indian transport system

Hyperloop is a futuristic proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation. While, in some countries, the term Hyperloop is a registered trademark of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) for the high-speed transportation of passengers and goods in partially evacuated tubes, 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.

How does this technology work and who owns it?

The system would propel a pod-like vehicle through a near-vacuum steel tube, with most of its air removed, at more than airline speed. The alpha version of the Hyperloop, published on the SpaceX website, describes claims of the design of the system, as well as its function. The pods would accelerate to cruising speed of up to 1,200kph 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. It would be powered by solar panels and, because it was so lightweight, could be elevated on concrete pylons along existing highways, reducing the cost of acquiring land.

This idea was initially proposed by the renowned serial Entrepreneur Elon Musk in July 2012 at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica, California. The name Hyperloop was chosen because it would go in a loop. Elon Musk declared the project open source as he was already quite busy with Tesla and SpaceX.

A start-up in Los Angeles called Hyperloop One, formerly known as Hyperloop Technologies, was incorporated in June 2014 and has since raised $160 million and built a team of 200 engineers and technicians to bring a complete autonomous transport system to market. Hyperloop One engineers have modified several key technical elements of Musk’s original design, including replacing the air bearings with passive magnetic levitation and eliminating the compressor.

Is it completely safe for humans to travel?

Though the company Hyperloop One is optimistic about its success and commits that the system will ensure smoothest and fastest possible mode of transportation without any danger to human life, yet some cons or risks always exist. Scientists state some presumptions which seem to be quite risky for this mode to be accepted as a fully functional mode of passenger transportation.

  • Critics claim that riding in a narrow, windowless capsule inside a sealed steel tunnel at high speeds, even minor deviations from a straight path may add considerable buffeting.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Taking the very high speed of Hyperloop in consideration thermal management of the pressurized air column is a huge concern. If the thermal management system fails and the pod doesn’t stop quickly enough, the people in the pod could cook. This isn’t that different from the risk of people freezing in an airplane if the heating system breaks, but might happen more quickly and thus be harder to react to a problem in time, especially since there is no pilot to catch errors with the system.

India ambitions of Hyperloop one

Hyperloop one held a media event in Delhi on Tuesday to announce that it was actively looking to develop five high-speed corridors in India, linking the major cities of India. The proposed routes include Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai-Chennai, Bengaluru-Chennai, Bengaluru-Thiruvananthapuram and Mumbai-Kolkata.

The chief guest of the event Suresh Prabhu, the minister of Indian Railways said — “We are watching all of these (new technologies) very keenly and we are working to modernize the Indian railways”.

Hyperloop One will decide by end of this year whether it’s feasible to run the vehicle in India after studying the market and will locally source a significant part of the components including steel if it decides to move ahead with the plan, CEO Rob Lloyd told Bloomberg.

“Hyperloop One will help accelerate India’s growth towards building substantial infrastructure that is financially and environmentally sustainable,” said Llyod.

Hyperloop One said that it got 126 applications from India in response to its Hyperloop One Global Challenge last year. The campaign was launched to seek route ideas from people. Of the 126, the company has shortlisted 5 routes in India on which it wants to focus.

The company describes 5 routes plan as follows:

AECOM: Bengaluru-to-Chennai. 334 kilometers in 20 minutes.
LUX Hyperloop Network: Bengaluru-to-Thiruvananthapuram. 736 kilometers in 41 minutes.
Dinclix GroundWorks: Delhi-to-Mumbai via Jaipur and Indore. Covers 1,317 kilometers in 55 minutes.
Hyperloop India: Mumbai-to-Chennai via Bengaluru, covering 1,102 kilometers in 50 minutes.
Infi-Alpha: Bengaluru to Chennai. It will cover 334 kilometers in 20 minutes.

Is this Ambitious plan going to be successful in India?

People are very excited about this new technology and they should be in fact as this technology will bring economic growth and takes the India a step ahead to be included in the list of developed countries. But, there are 2 things to be thought upon before we really dream about such advanced transportation system.

One, the Hyperloop is still a concept. It’s a technology that companies are working on but they are yet to show its viability from technology as well as financial point of view.

Second, Hyperloop One would need to a lot of permissions from the Indian government and will have to enter into a partnership with the public sector. This sounds easy but it is actually pretty tricky as well as can take a long time. So, for now as well as for another 5 years at least, if you want to go to a city in quick time, your best bet will remain airplane.