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Hyperloop: Faster Than the Shinkansen

Hyperloop: Faster Than the Shinkansen
by Daniel Payne on 12-17-2015 at 4:00 pm

In 1987 I made my first trip to Japan for business, then rode in my first high-speed train on the fabled Shinkansen (aka bullet train) traveling up to 200 mph on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto. Compared to the USA, our engineering friends in Japan have the most futuristic high-speed trains in the world. Today there’ s talk about another high-speed traveling mode similar to a train but running inside of tubes, dubbed the Hyperloop by Elon Musk, the billionaire made famous for SpaceX, Tesla Motors and SolarCity. The planned top speed for the Hyperloop is a staggering 760 mph, which is faster than commercial jets.

Musk created an open source design challenge back in 2013 to create a 28 passenger pod that travels through tubes, powered by solar, and costing only $20 for a ticket from LA to SFO, while taking just $6 billion to construct. Two startups are making a quest for this project: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) and Hyperloop Technologies Inc (HTI). At the start of 2015 Musk added plans to build a Hyperloop test track and announced a contest in 2016 where you need to build a half-scale pod. There are some 318 teams from around the world participating with pod designs.

HTT won’t spend their efforts on the 2016 contest and they pay their engineers equity in exchange for 10 hours per week, allowing them to keep their day jobs in high tech. Ansys has partnered with HTT to run simulations of the fluid dynamics required for the Hyperloop concept. HTT has plans to build their own Hyperloop in Quay Valley, California with pod speeds up to 300 mph, quite a bit short of the 760 mph dream goal.

HTT Concept

HTI is raising some $80 million in its next round of growth, and they are partnered with China Railway International USA. So there are two companies kind of racing to implement the first Hyperloop system.

HTI’s levitation ring

Concerns about Hyperloop include:

  • Safety
  • Costs
  • Passenger experience in a confined pod
  • Infrastructure

At the University of Illinois in the MechSE curriculum you can study the Hyperloop for credit, so Universities around the globe are getting energized with the entire high-speed transportation concept.

I’m all for the private sector innovating and developing travel concepts like the Hyperloop, however I’d be upset if our Federal or State governments started throwing my taxpayer dollars at such a high risk venture. I was quite skeptical of the concept of powering a transportation system of this size and weight using only solar power, and then keeping the tubes perfectly aligned across any real geography, especially earthquake-prone California. The Hyperloop almost reminds me of the earlier promise of mono-rail travel where we just see relatively short distance systems in use at novelty locations like Disneyland, Seattle and some airports.

Read the full WSJ article, “The Race to Create Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Heats Up“.

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