The tech world did a collective jump for joy this week when Hyperloop One, an engineering and design firm, held the first public test of the new Hyperloop transportation system. The Hyperloop concept was first introduced by Elon Musk, who, shortly after, released his open-source original designs to the public for other companies to build upon.
Hyperloop One is only one of several companies currently developing and testing designs based on Musks’s original concept. Hyperloop pods levitate above a single-rail track using magnetic resistance. The pods can reach speeds approaching the speed of sound through high-speed turbine propulsion, and are currently designed to be powered by solar cells.
The May 11, 2016 test was dubbed a “propulsion open-air test,” meaning it was meant to test Hyperloop’s magnetic drive system in response real-world variables such as air resistance and fluctuating ambient temperatures. According to initial data, the test was a success.
Hyperloop One’s website describes the technology as a new wave of clean, sustainable transportation:
High energy efficiency coupled with electric propulsion yield an energy elegant, carbon-free mode of transportation. And to enable on-demand transport, Hyperloop pods are much smaller than most planes and trains and are designed to depart as often as every 10 seconds.
Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd believes that this new transportation system will usher in a new, “fifth wave” of clean transportation technology. According to Lloyd, Hyperloop will “redefine the future of transportation, providing a more immediate, safe, efficient and sustainable high-speed backbone for the movement of people and things.”
Despite the optimism of Hyperloop’s engineers, the tube-driven future proposed by Hyperloop’s proponents could be distant. The infrastructure required for a full-scale implementation of this technology could take decades to construct, or longer. Connecting major cities with Hyperloop rails would be a massive undertaking that would most certainly involve cooperation with local and federal government agencies.
The hype and world-saving optimism surrounding the Hyperloop are eerily similar to the utopian hopes placed on the Segway, another transportation technology whose creators thought could change the world, but instead ended up as a plaything for rich urbanites. If the Hyperloop dream actually comes to fruition, the world of tomorrow might look a lot like the tube-filled science fiction of yesterday.