Hyperloop


By: Sujith Mohandas (LT MHPS)

Imagine yourself travelling from one city to another at the speed almost equivalent to that of sound while listening to your favorite track. Imagine yourself travelling from Delhi to Mumbai in a duration of almost an hour, saving you around an hour of flight duration at half the cost. The scenarios described may turn into reality soon.

Thanks to Elon Musk, an engineer, innovator, investor and an entrepreneur, who is known for making the impossible possible! He is no less than the Tony Stark of Iron Man fame in real life and someday, he might even build an Iron Man suit. From the development of an all-electric luxury super car (which can go to 0 to 100 km/h in less than 4.5 seconds) to building a low cost, simple and reusable rocket for space operations and expeditions, he has done it all.

Concept art of Hyperloop Inner workings
Concept art of Hyperloop Inner workings

How did he come up with this idea? Well great people try to solve real life problems themselves rather than running away from them or expecting others to solve it for them. While he was stuck in Los Angeles traffic, he thought of this idea as he was getting late for an important business meeting.  He thought that there should be a fifth mode of transportation other than land, air, sea and space where there is minimum probability of collision and traffic jams, is economically viable , consumes less or green power and is faster than any other mode of public transportation.

 The name Hyperloop might seem complicated to some people but the concept is really simple. It’s a tube floating in air travelling through a partially vacuumed air tight capsule or pod. In simple terms, it is the same concept of how a puck easily slides on air hockey table due to cushioned air layer, pumped through tiny holes. Advantage, negligible friction leading to lower power consumption.

Since the capsule is partially vacuumed (1 mbar pressure), air drag (friction) is minimal thus leading to further reduction in power consumption. Preliminary analysis indicate that a route of 1120 km can be travelled within one hour at an average speed of around 970 km/h, with a top speed of 1,200 km/h.

Each capsule floats on a 0.5-to-1.3-mm layer of air provided under pressure.With rolling resistance eliminated and air resistance greatly reduced, the capsules are theorized to be able to glide for the bulk of the journey.

In the Hyperloop concept, an electrically driven inlet fan and air compressor would be placed at the nose of the capsule in order to “actively transfer high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel”. A fraction of the air is shunted to the skis (the track above which the capsule will float) for additional air pressure, augmenting that gain passively from lift due to their shape.

This is just one of the concept developed for the Hyperloop, other being magnetic levitation (used in bullet trains) to float the tube in air.

 

Artist’s impression of Hyperloop Concept
Artist’s impression of Hyperloop Concept

Elon Musk came up with the name Hyperloop as it is something going really fast through a loop. Power required will be provided by the solar panels installed throughout the route above the capsules. Since the power consumption is almost half as compared to consumption of a high speed bullet train, it will generate more power compared to what is consumed without the need of storing the power in batteries which requires space and increases cost.

3D sketch of Hyperloop infrastructure
3D sketch of Hyperloop infrastructure

All is not rosy with the Hyperloop.

Since every idea comes with its own set of problems, so does the design of Hyperloop.  As the travel is within a narrow, enclosed and windowless capsule with no visibility to outside world, some science critics believe that it might lead to frightening experience for some passengers. Added noise and vibration due to partially vacuumed capsules travelling at near sonic speed of sound) may aggravate the problem. Another problem may be the ground shifting due to settling and ongoing seismic activity would inevitably cause distortion. At speeds approaching 972 km/h, deviations of even 1 millimeter (0.039 in) from a straight path would add considerable vibration, with no provisions for passengers to stand or move within the capsule, use a restroom during the trip, or get assistance or relief in case of illness or motion sickness. This is in addition to the obvious practical and logistical questions regarding how to best deal with equipment malfunction, accidents, and emergency evacuations.

But there is hope!

Regardless of all the issues arising for the Hyperloop concept, Elon believes that engineers and inventors all around the world would help him making his dream a reality.  Being busy with his companies Tesla and SpaceX, he has openly outsourced the Hyperloop design. Anybody in the world can help come up with a design for Hyperloop. A number of student and non-student teams are participating in a Hyperloop pod competition in 2015–2016, and at least 22 of them will build hardware to compete on a SpaceX sponsored Hyperloop test track in mid-2016.

Funding to operate prototype Hyperloop vehicles on test tracks are now underway by three companies. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is building an 8.0-kilometer-track in Quay Valley, California; SpaceX is building a 1.6-kilometer track in Hawthorne, California; and Hyperloop One is building a test track in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

Whether we would be able to travel every day at the near sonic speed, only future and hard work of engineers and innovators associated with the projects can tell. But Elon and the world are serious to bring Hyperloop to reality. And Elon’s track record shows that whatever he conceptualizes, he turns into reality.  Now, either we contribute towards making impossible possible or we just sit and wait for it to be made possible by others. The decision is ours.

The links to Hyperloop design articles are provided below and others sources can be found out on the internet. It’s time to think. All the best!

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperloop

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/07/the-real-ipod-elon-musks-wild-idea-for-a-jetson-tunnel-from-sf-to-la/259825/

http://www.spacex.com/hyperloop

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperloop_pod_competition

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x_IB45ySAQ

http://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2015/02/11/hyperloop-is-real-meet-the-startups-selling-supersonic-travel/#dc28ca0313cd

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/transpod-hyperloop-1.3496206

http://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musks-hyperloop-science-fiction-2013-7

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/8/14/economists-don-tbelievethehyperloop.html

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