With a deep hum, linear induction motors spun up a powerful magnetic field along 200 feet of track in the Nevada desert. A shiny sled whizzed forward in a blur. Fifteen hundred pounds of aluminum reached 120 mph in just 1.5 seconds, accelerating to 300 mph before plowing into a sand berm.
The transportation of tomorrow that billionaire rocketeer-automaker Elon Musk dreamed up in 2012passed its first test Wednesday. Yes, this version would still turn any human passengers into meat jelly. But at least it flies.
This was a major technology milestone, says Rob Lloyd, the CEO of Hyperloop One. More than that, it is asignificant step toward his company’s goal of sending people zooming through tubes before the decade is out.
Proponents of this outlandish idea say such a system will fundamentally change transportation, making neighbors of distant cities, rendering carbon-spewing trucks all but obsolete, and obviating the misery of air travel while sidestepping the political battles and massive cost associated with high-speed rail. (Yeah. Right.).
They call it the fifth great mode of transport—after the ship, the train, the automobile, and the airplane—and consider it every bit as revolutionary. “Hyperloop is faster, greener, safer, and cheaper than any other mode of transportation, Lloyd says.
Faster? Definitely. Greener and safer? Possibly. Cheaper? Theoretically. Of course, it’s all academic. Beyond some snazzy images rendered with computers and complex equations scrawled on whiteboards, Hyperloop doesnt exist. Wednesday’s test featured a test sled on a short stretch of rail.
Hyperloop in Brief
If you (somehow) havent heard, the Hyperloop is a proposed long-distance, high-speed transportation system, first floated by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in 2012. Cargo or passengers would ride in pods (size TBD) that run through large tubes (above or underground) with close to zero air inside. The lack of air minimizes resistance, and the pods would levitate above the floor of the tube, doing away with just about all the friction. Propelled up to 700 mph or more, they could cover the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco in just 30 minutes—a tantalizing alternative to an expensive flight or day-long slog through highway traffic. You can read way more about how the system works and the competing efforts to make it happen right here.
Lloyd is undeterred. He sees three lines running by 2020. “Were building this thing,” he says. Where that building will happen, though, is an open question. Lloyd says he’s interested in linking cities a few hundred miles apart, and connecting ports to inland transportation centers. Beyond suggesting the Port of Long Beach though, he doesn’t cite examples.
As crazyas that might sound, Hyperloop One is not alone in pursuing this dream. At least two other startups and students from dozens of universities are figuring out how to fling people vast distances at great speed. Even Musk, who tossed out the idea in a white paper before gettingback to cars and rockets, is building a test track near his Southern California spaceship factory.
Although the idea is new, the forces behind it are not:theconfidence bordering on hubris, the profligatespending of money and time, the excitement of engineers who say it can be done, and the skepticism of those who insistit cannot. The men and women populating these new Hyperloop efforts have every intention of being this century’s pioneers.
It’s hard to take someone like Brogan BamBrogan seriously when you first meet him. Theres the name, of course, which he had legally changed from Kevin Brogan two years ago, and the unbuttoned shirt and the mustache that is somehow gray only on the left side. But then you talk to him, and you start to think, yeah, maybe this could actually work.