Sonic-Speed Transport? It’s Closer Than You Think

The original idea for a system that could enable people and goods to travel faster than the speed of sound has been gaining a lot of new traction. This weekend, the next phase of the Hyperloop competition will take place, with teams looking to make smart, emissions-free transport a reality. 

Author Annalisa Dorigo, 01.24.17

The original idea for a system that could enable people and goods to travel faster than the speed of sound has been gaining a lot of new traction. This weekend, the next phase of the Hyperloop competition will take place, with teams looking to make smart, emissions-free transport a reality. 

The brain child of Elon Musk – inventor, engineer, and Tesla Motor’s CEO – the Hyperloop is a visionary project that, if implemented, is set to bring transport to a level which is so far only the stuff of sci-fi movies. Consisting of a system of aluminium pods travelling inside above-ground near-vacuum tubes, the Hyperloop’s vision is for passengers and goods to move at around 1000 km per hour, across a 6500km-wide network. 

According to Musk, building a Hyperloop network would not only be less disruptive to land use and cities than high speed rail, it would also be cheaper (e.g. one tenth of the cost of the proposed California high-speed railway system), and thanks to solar power panels generating more energy than it’d require, it would effectively also act as a power generator, therefore solving energy costs and sustainability concerns in one strike.

The system could help greatly reduce air travel, and its associated carbon emissions, for distances such as that between Los Angeles and San Francisco, or Amterdam and Paris, for which the Hyperloop would be at its most efficient.

In order to solve a number of engineering issues associated with travelling at very high speed in compressed environments – not to mention dealing with the fear and the motion-sickenss of passengers travelling at sonic speeds inside a windowless sealed narrow tube – and therefore to help bring the project closer to reality, and given that he himself is a very busy man, Musk opened up his idea for a competition, and invited a whole range of smart people to come up with possible solutions, and to identify also the best propulsion technology for the system to use.

Hyperloop One, one of the companies formed to take on the challenge and develop the Hyperloop, recently carried out the first ever test of the technology in the Nevada desert, and now hopes it will be able to start moving cargo by 2019 and passengers by 2021, connecting for example San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 30 minutes.

Through their Hyperloop One Global Challenge, they are looking to identify locations around the world in which to build their first Hyperloop network. Entries from “public sector authorities and private business, governments and investors, creative minds who plan infrastructure and the commercial partners who fund and deliver it” are all encouraged.

And while a number of private companies, such as Hyperloop One, have already taken on the challenge of the development of the Hyperloop transport system, to help speed up the process, through his very own space research enterprise Space X, Elon Musk is running the official Hyperloop Space X Competition I, specifically aimed at university students and independent engineering teams.

Between 27-29 January 2017, selected participants will be able to put their human-scale pods prototypes to the test on a specially built track in California, adjacent to headquarters of Space X. A second part of the competition will also take place in summer 2017. All findings will be open source.

And sooner than you think, a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles might only take 34 minutes. Ok, not quite teletransportation, but if this isn’t the stuff of sci-fi, I don’t know what is. 

You can read Musk’s original full project design report here, and here’s a video about the latest Hyperloop developments:

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