Virgin Hyperloop – A Moonshot on Earth

Virgin Hyperloop is a Giant Leap in the Transportation Industry

November 8, 2020 marks the day when Virgin Hyperloop tested their first human travel in a high-speed levitating train system reaching up to 160km/h in just 6.25 seconds. The first human trial with Virgin Hyperloop was conducted with the human passengers including the executives of Virgin Hyperloop Josh Giegel, Chief Technology Officer, and Sara Luchian, Director of Passenger Experience at a speed of 172 km/h (107 mph) at the Virgin Hyperloop’s DevLoop test site in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is a giant leap in the transportation industry and it is expected that the future trails will lead to increased speed and safety measures for human transportation.

“With today’s successful test, we have shown that this spirit of innovation will change the way people everywhere live, work, and travel in the years to come. For the past few years, the Virgin Hyperloop team has been working on turning its groundbreaking technology into reality,” said Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group.

Hyperloop is a sealed tube or system of tubes with low air pressure through which a pod may travel substantially free of air resistance or friction and it has potential to transport at hypersonic speeds at being very energy efficient at the same time. With the advent of this technology, the transportation industry is expected to change drastically, leaving the electric trains and aeroplanes obsolete due to the fast travel and energy efficiency of Hyperloop pods transportation system. According to an estimate, the Hyperloop train systems can travel at 1000 km/h, which is 3 times faster than high-speed rail and more than 10 times faster than a traditional rail.

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, Tesla and Neuralink tossed the idea in 2012 through conceptualizing it as a reduced-pressure tubes transportation system using pressurized capsules ride on air bearings driven by linear induction motors and axial compressors. The Hyperloop technology is gaining traction since last decade when SpaceX and Tesla offered an open-source design of the vactrain and sponsored the Hyperloop pod competitions for the public to demonstrate the technical feasibility of various aspects of the Hyperloop concept. Ever since Musk and his companies are promoting the idea for technological development and building prototypes by private companies and student-teams.

In 2019, The Technical University of Munich was successful in demonstrating the top-speed of their Hyperloop, now known as TUM Hyperloop, in a competition organized by SpaceX, recording the speed of the train as 463 km/h (288 mph).

This hypothetical high-speed mode of transportation would have the following characteristics: immunity to weather, collision-free, twice the speed of a plane, low power consumption, and energy storage for 24-hour operations.

Through this nascent development in the realm of transportation, the US has again secured its technological supremacy and besides, the development has been supported by the US House of Representatives, with multiple provisions moving the Hyperloop industry forward at a rapid pace within the United States. In July 2020, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Elaine Chao and the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council unveiled the guidance document on a clear regulatory framework for Hyperloop in the United States. This historic announcement not only provides a pathway for Hyperloop regulation and deployment in the US but also establishes Hyperloop’s eligibility for federal funding for projects.

The proposed routes of Hyperloop system in the US are under their planning phase and feasibility studies are underway for developing a Hyperloop corridor route from Chicago to Cleveland and Pittsburgh for America’s first multistate hyperloop system in the Great Lakes Megaregion. In addition to the US, a developing country India is also in a process of transferring this technology to their country where railway facilitates millions of people’s daily commute. In this regard, the Government of India is singing an agreement with the Hyperloop Transportation Technologies for a proposed route between Chennai and Bengaluru –having a distance of 345 km, which could be covered in 30 minutes. Other projects in India to bring Hyperloop technologies include the transportation system between Mumbai and Pune (cut the travel time from the current 180 minutes to just 20 minutes) and connecting Amaravathi to Vijayawada in a 6-minute ride.

Many of the active Hyperloop routes being planned currently are outside of the US. Hyperloop One published the world’s first detailed business case for a 500 km route between Helsinki and Stockholm, which would tunnel under the Baltic Sea to connect the two capitals in under 30 minutes. Hyperloop One is also well underway on a feasibility study with DP World to move containers from its Port of Jebel Ali in Dubai. On 8 November 2016, an announcement has been made for a new feasibility study with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority for passenger and freight routes connecting Dubai with the greater United Arab Emirates. Hyperloop One is also working on passenger routes in Moscow and a cargo Hyperloop to connect Hunchun in north-eastern China to the Port of Zarubino, near Vladivostok and the North Korean border on Russia’s Far East. In May 2016, Hyperloop One kicked off their Global Challenge with a call for comprehensive proposals of hyperloop networks around the world. In September 2017, Hyperloop One selected 10 routes from 35 of the strongest proposals: Toronto–Montreal, Cheyenne–Denver–Pueblo, Miami–Orlando, Dallas–Laredo–Houston, Chicago–Columbus–Pittsburgh, Mexico City–Guadalajara, Edinburgh–London, Glasgow–Liverpool, Bengaluru–Chennai, and Mumbai–Chennai.

TransPod is exploring the possibility of Hyperloop routes which would connect Toronto and Montreal, Toronto to Windsor, and Calgary to Edmonton. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) reportedly signed an agreement with the government of Slovakia in March 2016 to perform impact studies, with potential links between Bratislava, Vienna, and Budapest and in January 2017, HTT signed an agreement to explore the route Bratislava—Brno—Prague in Central Europe. In 2017, SINTEF, the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia, announced they are considering building a test lab for Hyperloop in Norway. An agreement was signed in June 2017 to co-develop a hyperloop line between Seoul and Busan in South Korea.

According to Musk, Hyperloop would be useful on Mars as no tubes would be needed because Mars’ atmosphere is about 1% the density of the Earth’s at sea level. For the Hyperloop concept to work on Earth, low-pressure tubes are required to reduce air resistance. However, if they were to be built on Mars, the lower air resistance would allow a Hyperloop to be created with no tube, only a track.

Some critics of Hyperloop focus on the experience—possibly unpleasant and frightening—of riding in a narrow, sealed, windowless capsule inside a sealed steel tunnel, that is subjected to significant acceleration forces; high noise levels due to air being compressed and ducted around the capsule at near-sonic speeds; and the vibration and jostling. Even if the tube is initially smooth, the ground may shift with seismic activity. At high speeds, even minor deviations from a straight path may add considerable buffeting. This is in addition to practical and logistical questions regarding how to best deal with safety issues such as equipment malfunction, accidents, and emergency evacuations.

Hyperloop is a technology that, for its supporters at least, could have a huge impact. It could reduce air travel between big cities, boost economies and trade, and reduce the pressure on housing in cities by allowing commuters to live further away. However, none of this is anywhere near proven yet. There are major technical and business hurdles that Hyperloop technologies will need to surmount before they can carry passengers in comfort through a pneumatic tube, let alone change the world.

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