A duo of humans sits in a familiar setting as a familiar countdown begins.
A sudden burst rockets the human-holding pod to 172km/h within seconds.
And 16 seconds, the trial is over.
Some call it the future of travel.
It's immune to weather, collision-free, low on power, stores energy over 24 hours, and has the potential to be twice the speed of a plane. All without the delays, baggage woes, and the stereotypical airport security dramas.
Although Elon Musk's 2013 conceptual whitepaper coined the term "hyperloop" with the definition of a “tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment,” this one is all Virgin.
Virgin Hyperloop is a 500m tube with a "special environment" much like Elon described with a key difference. Instead of Musk's tunnel idea pursued by his Boring Company, Virgin Hyperloop is a big, white pipe sticking out above the ground in the barren Nevada landscape.
While the outside of the pipe is fresh air, the inside of a hyperloop becomes much-of-a-muchness.
While operational, the hyperloop has most of the air removed and the resistance with it to simulate conditions approximately 200,000 feet up. Powerful electric magnets allow the pod to "levitate" from all side of the tube, meaning less friction. This allows "... you to go the speed of an aircraft, but use very little energy consumption," says Josh Giegel, CTO and former SpaceX engineer.
Musk likened the Hyperloop to a "cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table" which undoubtedly inspired potential investors.
No air resistance and no friction = fast.
Virgin Hyperloop could launch people and freight at airline - or even hypersonic speeds - while being considerably energy-efficient compared to current means and dramatically reduce travel times.
The innovative above-ground tube transportation system (say that 10 times fast) is a first for the hyperloop niche. And the test we mentioned earlier with humans on board?
Also a first.
When tasked with describing the concept, Giegel says it's like "... a new type of transportation. You can view it as we're building the airport, the aeroplane, the air traffic control, and the sky at the same time,"
Another snappy description of the technology is a "vactrain", and we think that's just neat.
Although Virgin Hyperloop's test was only short and hit a modest speed of 172km/h, it shows it's possible.
And for reference, a hyperloop (not just Virgin's) could theoretically propel along a 560km route at 1,200km/h. Doing so in approximately 35 minutes.
All this for "... no more than a high-speed train line ticket, and potentially we’ll be able to bring the price down further than that.” says billionaire Virgin founder, Richard Branson.
Imagine sticking your head in your Dyson in Sydney and within 45 minutes you're in Melbourne?
With all things, especially those that require infrastructure, the cost is the largest of hurdles.
Musk's whitepaper illustrated the cost of a below-ground system to be US$6 billion for a passenger-only version, and US$7.5 billion for a tube with ample room for transporting passengers and vehicles.
In 2016, Virgin Hyperloop (Hyperloop One at the time) suggested a Hyperloop connection between Helsinki and Stockholm was feasible, making the current 479km journey take 35 minutes. Currently, commuters can either fly with a total airtime of 65 minutes, or drive with ferries, tolls, and country borders producing an 11 hr and 26-minute commute.
Even then, transportation analysts had reservations it can be done with that budget. With several claiming construction, development, and operation costs would blow the budget out by billions.
We've heard uncountable concepts that promise to reinvent travel as we know it, but RAND Corporation senior engineer, Maynard Holliday, is a firm believer of the hyperloops potential. “There’s a really positive vision that you could see there,” he says, “if you had a hyperloop network that allowed people to live much further from urban centers.”
Would you ride a hyperloop over regular air travel?
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