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In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Long Ideas

Hyperloop Testing Begins, SpaceX Plans Contest and Test Track

Work on the first Hyperloop test track has begun at a former trucking company building in downtown Los Angeles. Strangely enough, The Hollywood Reporter, one of the entertainment trade papers that movie industry insiders read with their bagels, broke the story that Hyperloop Technologies Inc., or Hyperloop Tech, is building the first full-scale Hyperloop tube demonstration project in the parking lot of an abandoned truck garage in downtown LA’s seedy Arts District.

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Hyperloop Tech is the company founded by Silicon Valley Venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar and engineer Brogan BamBrogan. It has raised a little over $8 million and is planning to raise another $80 to $100 million to fund the development of its technology.

This is a potentially huge story because nobody has actually tested whether Elon Musk’s vacuum tube transportation system would work in large scale. Hyperloop Tech plans to test the idea by welding two massive steel pipes together to create a vacuum tube, according to The Reporter.

Artists conceptions of what the inside of a Hyperloop Pod might look like.
Artists conceptions of what the inside of a Hyperloop Pod might look like.

Miniature versions of the loop have been tested several times before, but this is the first time a life-sized Hyperloop is being created. The engineering challenge that Hyperloop Tech is facing is immense here because the Hyperloop will have to create a vacuum to work. The vacuum eliminates friction, which allows objects to move at incredible speeds. Nobody knows if a vacuum of that size and length can be created or maintained.

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Simply maintaining the vacuum is the first of several challenges that the Hyperloop Tech team faces. Once the vacuum is created, Tech’s engineer will have to see how fast the pods in the tube could really move and what effects the speed would have on passengers and cargo. When that’s sorted out, there will be such trivial matters as the shape of the pods in the tube and the materials used. Nor does anybody know what the actual speed limit for Hyperloop is. Would it really run at 800 miles per hour, or would it be a lot slower, as some engineers have noted?

SpaceX Jumps Back into Hyperloop with Contest

The man behind the tube himself, Elon Musk, is hoping to answer some of those questions with the Official SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. The contest will be sponsored by Musk’s privately held space company, SpaceX.

According to this website, Musk is asking teams to submit plans and designs for Hyperloop pods. The pods will be tested on a one-mile track at SpaceX’s headquarters in the dingy Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne. Anybody can apparently submit either a design for a pod or a working pod. The deadline is 5 p.m. Pacific Time on September 15, 2015.

This is what the first class compartment of a Hyperloop car might look like.
This is what the first class compartment of a Hyperloop car might look like.

Musk also admitted that he is leaving the development of the Hyperloop to others while he concentrates on rockets, lithium-ion batteries and electric cars. The competition’s website contains this statement:

“Neither SpaceX nor Elon Musk is affiliated with any Hyperloop companies. While we are not developing a commercial Hyperloop ourselves, we are interested in helping to accelerate development of a functional Hyperloop prototype.”

All technology tested in the contest will be open sourced. That means Musk will give the designs away for free to anybody that wants to use them. The idea is to create an open-sourced platform that others can build upon—a sort of ground transport equivalent of Google’s Android. That could make Hyperloop a money machine and Los Angeles the center of a new technology revolution that could exceed that in Silicon Valley.

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That could help usher in the Hyperloop Age and make the Tube part of our lives by encouraging a wide variety of efforts. An example of such an effort is that at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is trying to use crowd funding to create a rival to Hyperloop Tech.

The testing at SpaceX and at Hyperloop Tech could tell us if the Hyperloop is for real or simply a pipe dream. Impressive tests of the technology could interest government and politicians whose support will be needed to make Elon Musk’s dream a reality.