Moapa, Nevada -. The Hyperloop technology, which promises people transporting goods at speeds of up to 600 miles per hour, has long seemed too good to be true. But one company says it has taken an important step to commercialize it by moving its two employees through a test system.
Virgin Hyperloop becomes the first company to test human technology on Sunday at a 500 meter test track in the Las Vegas northern desert. Two volunteers, dressed in casual street clothes, were kneaded in a magnetically sucked shell inside a vacuum tube at 107 mph for 6.25 seconds.
The riders sit on white, vegan-leather molded seats, inside an all-white carbon fiber upholstery.
Sara Luchian, 37, one of the company’s test drivers and passenger experience director, said: “Force G on the fuselage is three times that on the plane, but“ it’s quieter than I expected. “. And unlike an airplane, there’s no lateral force that can make the case sway, she says.
“It doesn’t feel much different from accelerating in a sports car,” said Josh Giegel, 35, the company’s co-founder and another volunteer.
Jay Walder, the company’s chief operating officer, said: “This is a step with historical significance. “I don’t think you can exaggerate it. This is a beautiful moment. I have no doubt this will change the world ”.
Whether it will turn out to be a giant leap forward for humanity is not yet clear.
Virgin experimentation can be as iconic as it is to the ultimate success of the technology. Although the block moves at a much slower pace than what super-loop proponents claim the technology is capable of, company officials have described as a safety milestone.
Mr. Giegel said: “The number 1 question I get from investors is“ Is the ride safe enough? “. “We are ordinary people, we are not astronauts. This shows that it’s safe and that observers can get this back for investors and their cities of interest. “
Experimentation also gives a sense of realism to an abstract sci-fi-like structure. “You can come up with the most elegant diagram but at the end of the day what’s important is that people ride it? This is an example of a picture that is worth a thousand words, ”Ms. Luchian said.
The modern hyperloop concept was first described by Elon Musk, the top CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, in 2012. He comes up with the idea for anyone who wants to exploit it, and both he and Neither of his companies work on the super-loop.
Virgin Hyperloop, Richard Branson’s Virgin group is a minority investor, is among companies looking to commercialize the technology they hope will eventually move passengers between cities and cargo. to and from ports.
If it works as advertised, travel times can be cut dramatically – a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, for example, could take less than an hour.
Mr. Walder has extensive knowledge of transport systems, serving as the head of the New York Urban Transport and Transportation Authority for London. Mr. Walder claims that the hyperloop technology could be the first new high-volume transport system in a century.
“The US Interstate Highway system, which began in 1956, cannot be the end point in our imagination of how we move around,” he said. With hyperloop, “we can have a fundamentally different transport system”.
Unlike fixed-scheduled trains, the hyperloop pods will act like smarter lifts. Artificial intelligence will adjust the destination, the number of groups traveling in a convoy, and departure times based on demand.
Many experts are skeptical that the technology will fulfill its great promises or economically feasible.
Carlo Van de Weijer, general manager of the Dutch Eindhoven AI Systems Institute, said a truck crashing into a pipe could shut down the system. As the system ages, it will require costly maintenance. Hyperloops may also not be able to carry as many people or cargo as the proponents claim because individual groups will need to slow down to enter the boost rails.
Dr Van de Weijer said: “Every breakthrough starts with a strange idea. “But not all weird ideas are groundbreaking.”
Like the high-speed rail system, hyperloop companies will have to gain expensive cruising rights, said Juan Matute, deputy director of the Transportation Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Hyperloop housings will need to be very straight to travel at high speeds and turns will have to be very wide. Once roads are established, buying back every necessary parcel of land can become a nightmare. “If a route has been chosen, there are no alternatives,” said Matute. “Airlines don’t have this problem.”
However, some government officials and hyperloop entrepreneurs are determined to pursue the technology. Virgin Hyperloop, which has doubled its workforce to 300 in the past two years and raised more than $ 400 million, has chosen West Virginia as the site for a certification center and a six-mile test track. .
It has several projects in the planning stages: a route between Pune and Mumbai in India; another between Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; and one connecting Chicago, Columbus, Ohio and Pittsburgh.
“We are very active and curious about the possibilities of the hyperloop,” said Thea Ewing, director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
The Council estimates that over 30 years, a highway linking these cities will allow 1.9 billion trips of cars and trucks, reduce 2.4 million tons of carbon emissions and generate $ 300 billion in profits. economic benefits.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a company based in Los Angeles and Dubai, has built a 320 meter test track in Toulouse, France and is designing a 1,000 meter test track for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Best. It has also partnered with a container operator at the Port of Hamburg to design a cargo movement system.
The company’s CEO, Andres de Leon, said it’s not so important to be able to move people safely during the developmental phase of the technology. “We are testing the program from an engineer point of view, not from a marketer’s point of view.”
In the Netherlands, Hardt, a hyperloop company with 35 employees, has built a 30-meter-long track that allows the company to test flight, thrust and lane-change technologies. The company has teamed up with Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam to study the feasibility of a expressway connecting major airports in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and the UK.
But Hardt is developing freight first. The company’s chief commercial officer, Mars Geuze said: “It is less risky and it is easier for it to be involved if we do not emphasize the passengers. “It will be easier to take the smaller steps.”
Two other companies, TransPod in Toronto and Zeleros in Valencia, Spain, are also working to develop the hyperloop system.
Hyperloop companies have been encouraged by government findings that this technology is viable. In 2019, the US Department of Transportation assigned the Federal Railroad Administration to be responsible for developing standards and regulations for super highways.
In Europe, several hyperloop companies have formed a technical commission to develop standards, which they hope will be adopted by the European Union.
After Mr. Giegel and Ms. Luchian entered the storage compartment, it was pushed into the decompression chamber to wait for a vacuum to be created. At that point, the gate valve opens and the shell to the tube, ready for testing.
Virgin’s successful human trials can give real enthusiasts a psychological boost. The company’s executives believe the system will be commercialized by the end of the decade.
“This technology could be the transition to the future we all want,” said Giegel. “Today we went from infancy to adolescence.”