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What is a Hyperloop? How Does it Work?

Jagatheesh is a Mechanical Engineer and interested in writing on science and technology in our life.

Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation technology developed by various countries across the world.

Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation technology developed by various countries across the world.

On November 8, 2020, Josh Giegel and Sara Luchian, the executives of Virgin Hyperloop, participated in the first human trial of Hyperloop. It is a significant event that marks the beginning of a new era in public transport. Hyperloop is the new form of ground transport that is under development. When this system comes to work on a large scale, it will be a significant milestone in the history of travel. Let's read further to know more about the new model of public transport.

What is Hyperloop?

Hyperloop is a new form of mass transportation in which people can travel at over 700 miles an hour. It is a technology in which passengers travel in a pod inside a near-vacuum tube. As there is less air in the vacuum tube, air resistance to the forward motion of the pod is reduced. Instead of wheels on rails, it uses magnetic levitation to avoid friction.

Friction and air resistance are the two things that slow down regular vehicles. Theoretically, the concept was more than a century old. But practically, the technology is still in the initial stages of development.

Hyperloop is basically a train traveling in a vacuum tube. Elon Musk describes it as the fifth mode of transportation. It has the potential to change the history of public transport.

History of Hyperloop

The idea of fast travel is centuries old. In 1799, George Medhurst of London patented the idea of transportation in pneumatic tubes. In the 19th century, the atmospheric railway, which is similar to the hyperloop, was used in various places.

In the 1910s, Robert Goddard, the American rocket science pioneer, described the concept of vacuum trains. In 1981 Gerard K. O'Neill wrote about transcontinental trains using magnetic propulsion in his book.

In 2013, Elon Musk released a paper on the Hyperloop. His idea reignited the scientific community to explore the opportunity. Startups across the world are working hard to implement this idea worldwide.

A 3D Structure of Hyperloop Tunnel

A 3D Structure of Hyperloop Tunnel

How Does the Hyperloop Work?

The development of high-speed transportation was impeded by air resistance and friction. Elon Musk proposed to remove the air from the tunnel using an electrically driven inlet fan and an axial compressor. To reduce friction, he proposed the capsules to float above the surface, similar to the pucks floats above the table on the air hockey table. The pod generates an air cushion between the pod and the surface of the tube.

Another idea is to use magnetic levitation instead of air skis to keep the pod float on the surface. The passenger pods move through the low-pressure sealed tube, which contains vacuums that suck out most of the air. Virgin Hyperloop one and other Hyperloop Transportation Technology use this principle in their design.

Hyperloop system uses electric energy for propulsion. The pods will be initially getting their velocity from an external linear electric motor. A round induction motor is used to accelerate the pod to high subsonic velocity. Elon Musk proposed to use electricity from the solar panels mounted on the top of the tube.

Magnetic Levitation:

Maglev is 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.

Commercial Feasibility of Hyperloop

Elon Musk estimated the cost to construct a tunnel between Los Angles and San Francisco would be between $6 billion to $7.5 billion. But many believe that it would take nearly $100 billion to construct the Hyperloop in the proposed route.

The professional costs like conceptual engineering, final design, land accusations are difficult to calculate in Hyperloop technologies. But the infrastructure cost comparison studies based on Hyperloop Alpha point out that Hyperloop construction is less cheap than other modes.

When it comes to travel fare, Elon Musk's proposal advocated $20 plus operation costs for one-way travel between Los Angles and San Francisco. Virgin Hyperloop, in a statement, said that it would cost around $150 for 90-mile travel between Pune and Mumbai in India.

As the technology is still in the initial stages, we need to wait for the full-fledged operation. Ever since Musk's paper, various startups initiated their minds to make Hyperloop a reality. So shortly, we can see a new mode of transportation that is affordable for all.

Virgin Hyperloop Test track at Nevada

Virgin Hyperloop Test track at Nevada

Pro's and Con's of Hyperloop

Pros:

  • Hyperloop can save an enormous amount of traveling time.
  • Eco-friendly, it uses an electric propulsion system that can be harnessed from renewable resources as planned by Elon Musk.
  • The vacuum tunnels, when constructed on pylons, will reduce the land acquisition cost.
  • With fast transport, we no longer need to live near our workplace. It will reduce the congestion in cities.
  • WIth a closed environment, it is possible to operate in all weather conditions.
  • Reduced freight cost and time. The need for air cargo will be reduced.
  • With the use of green technologies, emissions like GHG will be reduced

Cons:

  • The route should be built without many curves to maintain the high speed
  • High-speed travel may cause dizziness to passengers. More human trials are needed to get a clear idea.
  • Need cutting-edge technology to construct a tunnel that maintains low pressure.
  • The initial cost of construction is high.
  • It is difficult to maintain a tunnel without any leaks in a long-distance route.
  • No clear idea about emergency exits.

Recent Developments

The consortium of European countries agreed to form a joint technical committee to standardize Hyperloop transportation across Europe. After Musk's paper on Hyperloop, many companies like Virgin group came forward to build the system.

Virgin Hyperloop raised more than $160 million from various investors. They conducted feasibility studies across different countries. In July 2019, the Government of Maharashtra, a state in India, set an ambitious target to built a Hyperloop to connect Pune and Mumbai. In 2020 They conducted the first-ever human trial in their test site in Las Vegas.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies(Hyperloop TT) and other companies are playing a major role in building a fully operational Hyperloop system. Hyperloop TT has signed deals with Ukraine and China to build Hyperloop. With the enthusiastic workforce working tirelessly behind this idea, we can expect to travel in a Hyperloop soon.

SpaceX conducts Hyperloop pod competition that creates huge interest among various technological minds.

SpaceX conducts Hyperloop pod competition that creates huge interest among various technological minds.

Will Hyperloop change the face of travel?

Elon Musk described Hyperloop as the Fifth form of Transportation. It is a technology that was possible only in theories. The wide-scale use of the Hyperloop needs more research and developments to make it feasible for all. Musk threw the idea open to all. It unites the productive minds across the world to study this centuries-old idea. Since 2015 SpaceX is conducting a Hyperloop Pod competition which creates curiosity among the science community to expand Musk's idea.

The recent human trial conducted by Virgin Hyperloop One is a great milestone in the history of Hyperloop. We need to keep in mind that it takes many years to bring air travel from theory to practice. With advanced technology, traveling in a tunnel at supersonic speeds is not so far.

First Human Trial of Hyperloop

Reference

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jagatheesh Aruchami

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