Originally published in the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) July issue of SPEEDLINES
Technology breakthroughs in transportation are advancing new possibilities for safety, efficiency and speed. At a time when many systems are beset with congestion and aging infrastructure, innovation will be key to tackling the challenges we face. These innovations are additional tools for our toolbox – they don’t necessarily replace existing tools. We are going to need all options – innovative and traditional – on the table to meet the demands of the coming decades.
Hyperloop is one of those options. That’s why Hyperloop One has joined APTA – to work together with our colleagues in the public sector to advance American transportation.
Hyperloop will soon be a new mode of transportation. Our company started with four people in a Los Angeles garage in the summer of 2014. The team is now more than 280 employees in three locations in the U.S., and offices in Dubai and London. We operate a four-acre innovation campus in LA, a 100,000 square foot machine shop in Las Vegas and a 50-acre test site in the Nevada desert.
The fundamentals of Hyperloop are straightforward: high-speed travel in a low-pressure tube to reduce resistance and drag, and the use of pods, rather than trainsets, for on-demand, point to point travel. The result is an extremely high-speed, energy efficient, and versatile system. At Hyperloop One, we are working to perfect the design and bring it to market.
In May 2016 at that Nevada test site, we demonstrated our propulsion and power controls system. In April of this year, we completed the first 500 meters of DevLoop, our full-scale and full-system track capable of testing all the major systems – linear electric propulsion, vacuum, magnetic levitation, braking and controls. One month later we celebrated our “Kitty Hawk” moment, the first autonomous “flight” of a levitated Hyperloop vehicle down the DevLoop tube under extremely low pressure. Over the summer we continued to push our testing faster and farther. By late July we were completing test runs of 1,433 feet and reaching maximum speeds of 192 mph, the fastest Hyperloop test speed achieved to date.
When I was at USDOT working under Secretary Anthony Foxx during the Obama Administration, we were determined to do all we could to modernize our practices so that we wouldn’t always be playing catch up with innovation. I know the new administration is just as determined to be at the forefront of innovation.
At Hyperloop One we are moving beyond incremental changes to existing technologies, but we are eager to make multimodal connections to passenger rail, transit and aviation. In fact, integration with other modes is central to our business plans for both freight and passenger service. We can serve as a high-speed passenger link from urban transit systems. We are planning to integrate operations with autonomous vehicles for last mile passenger trips. And we are looking at systems to connect ports with inland rail terminals. One of our company’s leading investors is DP World, which realizes the impact that Hyperloop can have upon freight transportation and movement of goods from ports. We’ve been working together to invent new cargo handling technology for its Port of Jebel Ali.
We see demand around the world. In May 2016, we launched the Hyperloop One Global Challenge to find the best routes on the planet and put real teams and stakeholders behind them. In January we narrowed the proposals down from a couple of thousand applications to 35 semifinalists from 17 countries. Twenty of those semifinalist proposals come with real government support. We expect to announce the finalists in the coming months.
We are entering an age of “press-button transportation,” with ride share and eventually drone services available to us at the tap of a phone. Hyperloop One plans to be part of that autonomous, push-button system. We’re focused on building hardware, but also a new way of controlling freight and passenger traffic in a “packetized” system. Our control systems are designed to ensure that everything on the main line of the Hyperloop is moving at an optimal speed and calibrate pod entry to the Hyperloop to prevent congestion and maximize efficiency.
As we see with autonomous cars, there is a recognition that we can make huge improvements in safety and reduce congestion by eliminating human error. Whether it’s a shipping container or a passenger pod, in the Hyperloop One system, the human role will be limited to choosing the destination. That is where transportation needs to go if we are realistically going to leap forward and solve the congestion problems we face.
Advocates of traditional modes of transportation do not need to fear the entry of innovative technologies to the transportation system. We should all root for more diverse options for the traveling public and our nation’s freight network.