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  • Miguel Francisco

New Transportation World Order: The Hyperloop


What if traveling in the most efficient way implied never leaving the ground? At the present, traveling from Los Angeles (LA) to San Francisco(SFO) in the United States (US) may be considered an extensive commute route. By car, it would take around 6 hours to enter the premises of SFO, and while air travel cuts this to an hour and a half, this would be at the expense of paying more and navigating one of the busiest airports in the US. While this is feasible for some, it may not be as sustainable for others.


A proposed train technology called the Hyperloop theoretically ameliorates the whole travel experience by cutting down travel time exponentially. For instance, the total time to get to SFO from LA using the Hyperloop is 35 minutes which is a 90% decrease from the original land travel of 6 hours (Walravens, 2020). In a YouTube video made by George Downs from the Wall Street Journal, the groundbreaking technology is defined as “a mode of transport that combines near-vacuum tubes with magnetically levitating trains that create almost frictionless ultra-high-speed travel” (Downs, 2022). The concept may be broken into two key scientific breakthroughs: near-vacuum tubes and magnetic levitation.


In the Hyperloop whitepaper released by Elon Musk in 2013, he revealed two approaches to constructing the Hyperloop: pneumatic and near-hard vacuum tubes. While some concepts such as eliminating air resistance are evident in both designs, questions related to their feasibility still arise. Pneumatic tubes are tubes that make use of compressed air or a vacuum to propel cylindrical containers (Tjassens, 2022). Despite this, Musk tagged this approach as unfeasible for reasons related to thermodynamics and velocity. In contrast, he believes that the future of the Hyperloop’s core infrastructure is near-hard vacuum tubes that utilize a low-pressure system to transport pods from one place to another. Unfortunately, such an approach posed problems of its own which is why Musk and his team declared this type of concept as open-sourced to turn the technology into a reality in the best possible way.


“Iteration of the design by various individuals and groups can help bring Hyperloop from an idea to a reality.” – Elon Musk


On the other hand, magnetic levitation is defined as “a system in which the vehicle runs levitated from the guideway (corresponding to the rail tracks of conventional railways) by using electromagnetic forces between superconducting magnets onboard the vehicle and coils on the ground” (Mahmoud, 2018). To put it simply, this scientific process allows a train or pod in the context of the Hyperloop to levitate using electromagnetic forces. Because of this, less friction is exhibited which allows it to travel faster. Combining this with the concept of near-hard vacuum tubes allows the pod to travel at unprecedented rates. This scientific concept is no stranger to railway transportation as this is being used in countries like Japan & China’s bullet trains.


(Japan’s maglev bullet train. Taken from Japan RailPass)


(China’s maglev bullet train. Taken from CNN 2021)


While the concept of the Hyperloop was initially introduced by Musk in 2013, inspirations for the technology can be drawn from history that date back to the 1860s as seen in the different functions of the pneumatic tube system which include transporting mail, food, and sometimes cats (Edwards, 2015). In essence, the Hyperloop is a culmination of the different scientific developments in the fields of aerodynamics, electromagnetics, thermodynamics, and other related fields throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.


With a USD value of $1.2 billion growing at a CAGR of 40.4% from 2021 to 2026, two key companies are racing to become the first provider of the promising technology: Virgin Hyperloop and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (2021). On November 8, 2020, Virgin Hyperloop was able to successfully transport passengers in a trial run, marking this day as a historical event in the history of the Hyperloop. Despite this, the Financial Times reported a change in strategy for the company which shifts its focus from passengers to freights (Edgecliffe-Johnson & Kerr, 2022). On the other hand, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies’s partnership with Hitachi Rail has allowed the company to get access to a customized traffic management system simulator that will accelerate its commercialization timeline (HyperloopTT, 2022). It must be noted that while these two are the current key players in the space, many other competitors exist including Musk’s The Boring Company.



(Virgin Hyperloop Passenger Test. Taken from Virgin Hyperloop Youtube channel)


Considering this, the emergence of Hyperloop-related patents is no surprise. For instance, inventor Yayun Zhou, the former design execution lead of HTT, and the company filed a patent in May 2017 for a station with a loop configuration for a hyperloop transportation system (Google Patents). The idea of the invention is like that of a modern train station but with specs that cater to Hyperloop technology. It was approved in 2019 with an expiration date set to the year 2038. Similarly, the same company filed a patent for displaying ads via augmented windows in November 2020 and was granted in June 2022 (Justia Patents).



(One of the drawings presented in the patent of HTT. Taken from Google Patents)


The implications of the Hyperloop to society will influence the behaviors of people and organizations alike. For one, the impact of such technology on tourism in different parts of the world is positively unimaginable since people would be able to reach their destinations in shorter periods at ideally more affordable rates. For businesses, this may imply greater degrees of efficiency for supply chains as goods would be able to reach stakeholders faster. However, the systems of the Hyperloop still have a way to go as problems related to safety need to be addressed. Downs mentioned that two problems, not limited to this number, present in the current system are related to evacuating passengers and avoiding collisions (2022). Regardless of these concerns, the potential of the Hyperloop may not be ignored as this type of technology would bring significant change to cities for centuries to come.


References:


Edgecliffe-Johnson, A., & Kerr. (2022, February 21). Virgin Hyperloop axes half its staff to focus on freight. Financial Times. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.ft.com/content/d87f77bd-0a0a-4512-b983-197f184f5352


Edwards, P. (2015, June 24). The golden era of the pneumatic tube - when it carried fast food, people, and cats. Vox. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/2015/6/24/8834989/when-the-pneumatic-tube-carried-fast-food-people-and-cats


Google. (n.d.). US20170334312A1 - station with loop configuration for Hyperloop Transportation System. Google Patents. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://patents.google.com/patent/US20170334312A1/en


Markets and Markets. (2021, May). Hyperloop technology market. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/hyperloop-technology-market-87164486.html#:~:text=%5B158%20Pages%20Report%5D%20Hyperloop%20technology,40.4%25%20from%202021%20to%202026.


HyperloopTT. (2022, June 22). Hyperlooptt Marks Critical Technology Milestone with Hitachi Rail. HyperloopTT. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.hyperlooptt.com/2022/hyperlooptt-takes-crucial-step-to-reality-with-world-leading-digital-signalling-and-traffic-management-system-co-developed-with-hitachi-rail/


JRailPass. (2022, January 21). Japanese Maglev Train: World's Fastest Bullet Train. JRailPass. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.jrailpass.com/blog/maglev-bullet-train


Mahmoud, M. S. (2018). Magnetic Levitation. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/magnetic-levitation.


Marcus, L. (2021, July 21). China debuts world's fastest train. CNN. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/china-fastest-maglev-train-intl-hnk/index.html


Tjassens, R. (2021, April). History. Pneumatic Tube, Rohrpost, Buizenpost. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://pneumatic.tube/history


Virgin Hyperloop. (2020). Pegasus. Virgin Hyperloop | Pegasus. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://virginhyperloop.com/pegasus


Walravens, S. (2020, December 8). San Francisco to L.A.. in 35 minutes? Elon Musk's Hyperloop moves closer to Reality. Forbes. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/geekgirlrising/2020/12/08/san-francisco-to-la-in-35-minutes-virgin-hyperloop-moves-closer-to-reality/


YouTube. (2022). What Will It Take for Hyperloop Travel to Be a Reality? | Not Quite There Yet. YouTube. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SRY-_3bEB8.


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Ateneo de Manila University.

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