The Wall Street Journal’s Alexander Chee just produced the longest and best article I’ve seen yet on the Hyperloop. It’s full of important information, a lot of which the rest of the media has missed.
I highly recommend that everybody interested in this important new technology read Mr. Chee’s piece. If you do not have the time to read it, I’ve synopsized the most important news from the article and listed it below. Some key new revelations about Hyperloop include:
- There will be a Hyperloop design weekend at Texas A&M University on January 13, 2016. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is scheduled to give the keynote address. That’s a further indication that the Obama Administration and the Transportation Department support Hyperloop.
- Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), Dirk Ahlborn’s open-sourced effort, has applied for permits for its Hyperloop test track at Quay Valley, California.
- HTT is not planning to participate in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop pod design contest, although it could presumably utilize data gathered through the contest, which will be made available through an open sourced effort.
- HTT’s main competitor, the more traditional Hyperloop Transportation Inc., or HTI, has entered into a partnership with China Railway International USA. That company and a venture called XpressWest are trying to develop a high speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. One of the partners in China Railway is the Chinese national railroad, which could help Hyperloop reach the People’s Republic.
- SpaceX’s test will involve a “smart tube” that uses sensors to gather data about Hyperloop capsules and their operations.
- The test could give SpaceX a proprietary Hyperloop tube that could carry different kinds of pods. That could give SpaceX a huge advantage if it decides to build or market its own Hyperloop systems.
- There could be one or two different Hyperloop systems using different sizes of tubes and pods. This could be similar to 19th century railroading when different railroads used different gauges of track. Chee compared it to the New York City subway, which still uses two different kinds of cars because it was built by rival developers.
- HTT could be developing a smaller passenger-carrying Hyperloop for suburban use in Quay Valley.
- Elon Musk wants to act as an evangelist to promote Hyperloop rather than an entrepreneur creating it. Musk’s role in Hyperloop sounds more like his role at SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY), America’s largest installer of solar electric systems. Musk serves as the company’s chairman and spokesman, but Musk’s cousin, Lyndon Rive, serves as CEO.
- Hyperloop could actually generate electricity through the kinetic braking system, Alhern told Chee.
- If it works as advertised, the HTT Hyperloop in Quay Valley would actually generate more electricity than it uses through kinetic breaking, solar panels, and wind turbines. That way it could feed electricity back to the grid and serve as a combination electric utility and transportation system. Such a system would be a throwback to the electric-powered trolley and interurban (light rail) systems of the early 20th century, which were often owned by utilities. One reason why such systems disappeared in the United States was that government regulators forced utilities to divest themselves of rail lines, which made them uneconomical to operate.
- The HTT Hyperloop in Quay Valley will cost between $100 million and $150 million to build and operate at speeds of around 300 miles per hour. That’s similar to the speed of a current generation high speed train like Germany’s ICE.
- The Quay Valley Hyperloop could carry both freight and passengers, making it a prototype for an integrated transportation system.
- Quay Valley, a community of 27,000, could serve as a prototype for Hyperloop developments. These would be a 21st century version of street car suburbs, which were developed by developers of trolley lines. The most famous of these were the many suburbs of Los Angeles, which were developed by the Pacific Electric Railway.
- HTI CEO Rob Lloyd is one of the men who built the Internet when he worked at Cisco Systems. Lloyd thinks the Hyperloop will become like the Internet—a literal Internet of Things moving freight around the world at a high speed.
The demand for Mr. Lloyd’s Internet of Things of could be far greater than we thought. Wired reported that Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) is planning to buy hundreds of semi-tractor trailers to move freight back and forth between its fulfillment centers.
In the future, Hyperloop could do that role far more efficiently and cheaply. Perhaps HTI or HTT should try to get Jeff Bezos involved in their efforts to try to create a network of Hyperloop tubes connecting its fulfillment centers.
That could help the Internet of Things become a reality and give other retailers, such as Walmart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), involved. Like Amazon, Walmart has been making heavy investments in infrastructure lately; perhaps some of that investment could go to developing a Hyperloop system.
It looks as if interest in Hyperloop is greater than we thought. One has to wonder if it will be enough to make this dream a reality or not.