Nearly three years ago, technology billionaire Elon Muskproposed a radical idea: Why not create a transportation system that involved putting people-filled pods in low-pressure tubes, then zipping those pods along with fans or magnets at speeds topping 700 miles per hour?
Preoccupied with other radical ideas involving space rockets, electric cars and solar power, Musk released his early thoughts to the public. He was effectively challenging the world to build the seemingly outlandish system, calledthe Hyperloop. And it’s working.
The Hyperloop took its biggest-yet step towards reality Wednesday when Hyperloop One, one of two leading companies working on the concept, successfully and publicly tested its propulsion system in the Nevada desert, accelerating a sled from zero to 105 miles per hour in slightly over a second. The vessel, built without brakes, unceremoniously ended its brief 400-foot journey in a pile of sand.
The test is a noteworthy moment in Hyperloop history, to be sure. But the propulsion system is only one of several components necessary to build a working Hyperloop. Also required are some kind of levitation system (which would lift a pod above a track, reducing friction and increasing speed) and a low-pressure tube (which creates an environment with less drag, also increasing speed.) Hyperloop One has yet to publicly demonstrate either of these other ingredients, though it has previously promised a full-scale “Kitty Hawk” demonstration by the end of this year.
Hyperloop One’s test comes one day after the firm changed its name from Hyperloop Technologies and announced $80 million in new funding in addition to the $11.1 million it raised in 2015. The firm also announced several partnerships with technology, engineering and logistics companies, as well as that it’s engaging in feasibility studies in California and Europe.
Should a commercial version of the Hyperloop ever exist, it could revolutionize how we think about travel, business and even the very concept of physical distance. Hyperloop proponents like to say the system could make it possible to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles, a trip that takes close to six hours by car, in a half an hour. If that is true, it could have a radical impact on both cities, perhaps turning the Los Angeles area into an extension of Silicon Valley over a long enough period of time. And that’s just one example.