The Hyperloop vision has thousands of magnetically levitated pods containing people and goods shooting at supersonic speeds through a system of vacuum tubes supported by pylons. And the Hyperloop organisation itself is every bit as innovative as the vision they are setting out to realise.
“Hyperloop is an incredible thing the way we created it. It’s not a normal company,” says Bibop Gresta, chairman and co founder of Hyperloop. In fact, Hyperloop is more like a crowd-sourced consortium, or as they say on their website: “Instead of starting a company, what if we launched a movement?”
Hyperloop is yet another brainchild of Elon Musk, the PayPal billionaire who founded Tesla and SpaceX. Musk published the first Hyperloop white paper on the SpaceX website, and Gresta and Hyperloop co-founder Dirk Ahlborn reposted it on Jumpstart Fund, their crowdsourcing space. Gresta recalls asking Musk, “What happens if we actually do it?” Typical for Musk, his reply was: “Do it.”
Gresta and Ahlborn put out a call to action, and the responses started rolling in. “Our idea was not just raise and spend as much money as we could. We were asking people to work for stock options, and giving them the opportunity to invest.” One hundred scientists requested to join the team, and each of them gave input on specific points in the white paper. Their conclusion: “It can be done.”
Heading to sea
Bibop Gresta was recently in Oslo for the bi-annual Nor-Shipping maritime exhibition and event week, and gave the closing remarks at the opening conference. Does that mean Hyperloop is moving into the ocean space?
“In Oslo we were discussing with maritime players about marine solutions. The Norwegian government invited us to do the presentation, and this is part of a number of governments of different countries working together to move the concept forward in various arenas,” Gresta informs.
“Norway has a very interesting vision about shipping, and I think Norway can represent a revolution in the shipping industry. We will start from Oslo to launch a message, that we can build a new infrastructure not based on energy consumption, but on renewable energy.”
The idea is that Hyperloop will produce as much or more energy than it consumes, he says, based on a passive magnetic levitation system developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that requires no electricity to operate. “Aside from that, the technology is not complicated,” Gresta assures. “Most of the concept is based on existing technology. It will be largely serial engineering.”
Pretty mundane talk from a man who wants to change the way things are moved, on land and sea. “Shipping is fundamentally based on shipping companies using land in ports, where they stack unused containers and cargo in transit. Hyperloop can completely disrupt this concept by creating platforms in the sea, where collectors would come and gather the requested containers. You wouldn’t need a port any more.”
If the idea of travelling in a tube with a loaded container following behind you at 1000 km an hour sounds a bit worrying, fear not. Gresta assures that passengers and cargo will not be mixed. “We would move passengers at peak times, and cargo at down times. A lot of work is going into achieving passenger and cargo harmony.”
Working at peak capacity, Hyperloop stations would depart a capsule every 40 seconds. Artificial intelligence will call up and depart capsules on demand, predict traffic, and respond in real time. The balance of passenger and freight traffic, Gresta says, would be a function of the volume of passenger traffic. Above all, it would be safe. “The goal is to make Hyperloop the safest form of transportation on earth.”
First by land
Though the system would be essentially the same on land and sea, marine installations are still prohibitively expensive, he acknowledges. “We will start with land solutions before we take that learning into the oceans, but the goal is to have the infrastructure of the future cost less and be more sustainable, on land and sea.”
So where does Bibop Gresta see Hyperloop in three years? “We are building the first test track in Nevada now, and the first installation will probably be in Abu Dhabi, where we have entered into an agreement with the government to perform a feasibility study.” Gresta is keenly aware of the symbolism of this choice: “I think it is significant that the most progressive transport system in the world is going to be built in a developing country.”
And in ten years? “A land-based network will have been built for passenger and freight transport, connecting several capitals around the world,” he predicts. It may just be true, what Hyperloop says on their website: “The future of transportation is closer than you think.”