The belief that an idea can ignite minds was proved when Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, dreamt of designing 800-mile-per-hour mass transit system called the Hyperloop for traveling between cities. Musk envisaged transporting passengers in capsules that travel through giant vacuum tubes at super speeds.
In this system, the capsules will be kept afloat in the air within the tube by a combination of magnets and air jets. These capsules will attain a speed of over 700 miles per hour. Although he failed to pursue this $6 billion idea, it had already ignited many minds.
One of them who got inspired, among others, was Jordan Brandt, the technology futurist of Autodesk, a 3D design software company. He and his team are in the process of looking for ways to improve the Hyperloop designs. Whereas Elon Musk’s focus was on designing the pod capsule and the power requirements, Brandt’s focus is on the infrastructure, the most expensive aspect of the Hyperloop project.
Brandt improved upon the horizontal configuration of Hyperloop tubes of Musk’s plan by configuring it into a vertical, figure-eight style tube. This minimized the requirement of land and expensive pylons needed to support the tubes. He also devised a cheaper way to manufacture tubes, replacing Musk’s steel tubes with cheaper, and much stronger and lighter carbon fiber.
He also came up with the idea of using a mobile ‘braiding machine’ that can actually braid the carbon fibers into tubes at the point of use. This ‘factory on wheels’ is said to shave off billions from the project.
Jumping into the Hyperloop fray was HTT (Hyperloop Transportation Technologies) headed by Dirk Ahlborn that came up with an even better idea of replacing carbon fibers with a new and better material. This new material is called Vibranium, named after the rare material of alien origin used to make Captain America’s shield.
HTT developed this material in collaboration with Slovakian material manufacturer c2i. The company claimed it has created a super material that is 10 times stronger than steel and eight times stronger than aluminum, but five times lighter than it. The idea of creating this new material was to make the capsule as safe as possible.
The company also signed an agreement with the Slovakian government to build two Hyperloop routes connecting the capital city of Bratislava to Vienna and Budapest. The Hyperloop transportation system will cover the 35-mile distance between Bratislava and Vienna in merely eight minutes and the 100-mile distance between Bratislava and Vienna in 10 minutes.
Meant to craft the capsules for the tubular transit system, Vibranium comprises dual layers of smart material. Even if the outside of the capsule gets damaged, it can continue to operate safely. Being super lightweight, it will also reduce the energy needed to propel the capsules across vast distances.
The ‘smart’ aspect of this material is it will be embedded with sensors, enabling the pod to monitor temperature, hull stability, integrity, and other critical details. This information will be transmitted to the Hyperloop operator in real time. In case any defects are detected, the information will be transmitted instantly to Mission Control for taking corrective action, even before the pod reaches the next station.
In competition with HTT is Hyperloop One, formerly Hyperloop Technologies, who built a test track in Nevada desert to showcase their initial efforts. Not only has this company showed off its propulsion system, but also presented a super-strong and super-smart pod skin material.
Although Musk envisaged running the Hyperloop capsule from the LA to the SF Bay Area along California’s Interstate 5, France has pipped him to the post. A full-scale passenger Hyperloop capsule is now being constructed in Toulouse, France. This means France will have the honor of running the first high-speed passenger capsule.
To top it all, it is HTT that will start delivering the capsule in 2018 that it is building in collaboration with Carvures SA, holding expertise in building fuselage and advanced materials construction for aeronautics and aerospace industries. Each capsule will have a length of 98.5 feet (30 meters), and a diameter of 9 feet (2.7 meters). It will weigh 20 tons.
So, how does it compare with the Maglev bullet train, the fastest in Japan? The latter attains an impressive speed of up to 374 mph (603 kph), but Hyperloop capsule will fire through the tubes like a bullet attaining a mind-boggling speed of 760 mph (1,223 kph). Of course, Ahlborn’s first priority remains the safety of the passengers.
It is not surprising that the Hyperloop transportation breakthrough is being compared with other transportation milestones, such as the invention of automobiles, locomotives, and airplanes. Each invention indicated a significant shift in carrying people from one place to other.
Although Hyperloop transportation is soon to become a reality, it still seems like the stuff of fantasy. Even if this initiative fails, the world will be richer by gaining the super material Vibranium, since this super lightweight material used in making vehicles is set to save our precious fossil fuels and check emissions.