Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame unveiled plans for the Hyperloop transit system in 2013, but he didn’t announce any plans to actually build it. He explained he was too busy, so the white paper describing form of ground transport was released so anyone could have a crack at it. Now a company has created the first full-scale test version of the Hyperloop. The aptly named Hyperloop One (formerly Hyperloop Technologies) just demoed its system on Wednesday, and it worked. This contraption won’t be carrying passengers any time soon, but it proves the Hyperloop is a viable concept.
The Hyperloop as described in the original whitepaper is not a fully fleshed-out idea. It’s more of a basic set of design principles — the specifics need to be engineered from scratch. A Hyperloop like the one tested by Hyperloop One could potentially be able to reach speeds of 700 mph inside low-pressure tubes. The pods in a finished Hyperloop would utilize levitation (magnetic or air) to reduce friction and impeller motors for efficient propulsion.
Hyperloop One is currently working on perfecting the propulsion system, and Wednesday’s test just covered that component. The company calls it a propulsion open-air test or “POAT.” There’s no levitation and no sealed low-pressure tube. This is simply a test to make sure the propulsion system works, because if it doesn’t, none of those other problems will matter. Hyperloop One describes the linear-electric motors as electromagnetic blades attached to the track. When powered, they push the pod along in a similar fashion to some newer roller coasters that use linear induction. The low-pressure environment of a Hyperloop track means you’d only need these motors on five or ten percent of the track sections to keep the pod moving at the desired speed.
The POAT demonstration at its Nevada test track on Wednesday went as expected, and it’s admittedly not the most impressive piece of video you’ll ever see. What actually happened is important, though. The test vehicle accelerated at 2.5G, reaching 100 mph in about one second, according to Hyperloop One. The total run was only five seconds, at which time the vehicle plowed into a bed of sand to bring it to a stop. Hyperloop One hasn’t designed any brakes yet.
Hyperloop One is far from alone in its quest to build a Hyperloop, but they do seem like they’re in the lead. Another firm, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, has announced a design for passive magnetic levitation that would make a Hyperloop more efficient. SpaceX is also in the process of building a test track in California to work on Hyperloop technology. Maybe if everyone pulls together in a few years, we’ll have a real Hyperloop.
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