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Is Elon Musk's Hyperloop moving from science fiction to science fact?

Posted by Luke Upton on Feb 1, 2016

A conceptual design rendering provided by SpaceX showing a Hyperloop passenger transport capsule within a tube.“The public wants something new. And you're going to give it to them."

Long the subject of conjecture and rumour, could the Hyperloop, billionaire Elon Musk’s currently conceptual high-speed transportation system be heading towards reality? Judging by the number of developments this past month the answer is that maybe it is. As envisioned by SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Musk, Hyperloop would use a network of low-pressure tubes and air-cushioned pods traveling at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour and would enable passengers to make the 354-mile (570 km) distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just 35 minutes. So what are these new developments that have reignited interests and belief in this most ambitious of transport projects?

When he announced the plans for Hyperloop, Musk labelled it a "fifth mode of transport" (i.e., not a car, train, plane or boat) before stating that, in true billionaire style, he didn’t actually have enough time to build it himself, with his battery-powered Tesla car and SpaceX rocket plans being his focus. 

Someone who has now get the time (and the contract) to build it is AECOM, the integrated infrastructure firm, who it has been confirmed as being selected to design and build the world’s first Hyperloop test track as part of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, a university-focused challenge to help spur student innovation. 

The test track's six-foot diameter steel tube will include a non-magnetic sub-track and run nearly one mile adjacent to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. Cradled in place above ground, it will serve as a vacuum-sealed, high-speed proving ground for transport pod prototypes being developed as part of a SpaceX design competition.

“AECOM has designed and built some of the world’s most impressive transportation systems, so we appreciate how the development of a functioning Hyperloop with SpaceX can dramatically expand the ways people move across cities, countries and continents,” said Michael S. Burke, AECOM chairman and chief executive officer in their press statement .

SafeRail incorporating the PTC World Congress

From complex, long-span bridges and high-speed rail to international airports and urban transit hubs, AECOM will leverage insights from its strong infrastructure experience to further the advancement of an entirely new mode of transit. “What we are delivering is more than just a track to test pod prototypes; it’s a glimpse into the future,” added Burke.

Design efforts for the test track are underway with a goal of construction beginning in spring 2016. 

Whilst on Saturday 30th January the MIT Hyperloop team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was awarded the top prize in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition and will go onto build an actual pod (see design right) at this soon to be constructed by AECOM testing track. Delft University of Technology from the Netherlands were runners-up and Auburn University won in the category of best overall subsystem. Twenty-two teams in all will go on to test their pods in Hawthorne, although up to 10 other teams could also qualify after further judging in the coming weeks, according to SpaceX.

MIT Pod Design At the announcement of the winners of the competition, the Verge reported that Elon Musk elicited a rapturous reaction from attendees with a surprise appearance, telling the audience that; “The public wants something new. And you're going to give it to them."

Meanwhile on January 28th, Bloomberg, reported that China’s biggest maker of railway equipment, CRRC Corp., is in talks for a potential investment in Hyperloop Technologies with the companies discussing opportunities to work together, including collaboration and investment. All according to sources close to the talks, who were not authorized to talk on the record.

The state-owned train manufacturer CRRC Corp. was formed last year by the merger of two Chinese manufacturers. And with the estimated cost of the Hyperloop’s passenger-only model being $6billion, with the freight model coming in at $7.5 billion, it could be this Chinese development that is most important, even for a man with the resources of Elon Musk.

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Topics: projects, smartcities

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

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