WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Countries around the world reinventing mobility and transportation, and the Hyperloop is a crucial part of many countries future vision.
Elon Musk’s dream of travelling by hyperloop, essentially a Mach 1 train in a vacuum tube, is getting closer to reality as the UAE put pen to paper last year on being the first country to build a hyperloop network in 2021, new hyperloop prototypes break speed records, and companies like Virgin paint bold visions. Now another contender in the space Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) has unveiled its first full-size passenger capsule in Cadiz, Spain.
The company, one of several in the race to realise the promise of breaking the speed barrier, which also includes China’s desire to build a Mach 3 hyperloop equivalent called the T-Flight, said the capsule had been “built to scale to transport passengers at super-fast speeds through magnetic tubes.”
See the pod being built
HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn told CNBC he hopes to have a full hyperloop system up and running in three years.
“In three years, you and me, we can take a hyperloop,” he said.
Ahlborn added that passengers would need to sign a waiver before boarding a hyperloop as regulators continue to work out legal and safety requirements. He said worldwide adoption of hyperloop transport could come in “maybe five to 10” years once a legal framework is in place.
“It’s definitely much sooner than anybody would expect,” Ahlborn said.
HTT’s capsule measures 105 feet long and weighs five tons, and the company has not fully completed its interior, which it says will fit between 28 and 40 passengers.
The capsule will now move to HTT’s research and development center in Toulouse, France, to finish assembly and run tests on the facility’s full size track.
“The importance of what we achieved is that it’s a real full-scale capsule,” said HTT chairman and co-founder Bibop Gresta. “This is the first time that we’ve shown what a hyperloop would look like.”
Hyperloop transport was first envisioned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2013. The technology would use magnets to levitate and propel pods through large tubes at speeds of more than 700 mph — shortening a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, for example, to just 30 minutes.
HTT is one of several companies racing to make Musk’s vision a reality. Virgin Hyperloop One unveiled a prototype model of its full-scale cargo pod in February in Dubai.
HTT’s capsule was built at the southern Spain aerospace facility of its partner Airtificial. Airtificial was formed by the merger of Spanish manufacturer Carbures and Spanish engineering company Inypsa, which produces parts for companies including Airbus and Boeing.
“The aerospace engineering industry here in the south of Spain is very strong,” said Rafael Contreras, Airtificial co-founder and chairman. “We have engineering capacity, we have the systems, the structure.”
The skin of HTT’s capsule is made of a smart material the company calls Vibranium, in a hat tip to Marvel’s Black Panther’s wonder material, which consists of carbon fiber and embedded sensors. HTT claims the material is eight times stronger than steel and 10 times stronger than aluminum alternatives. But even in the world of high-speed travel there’s still some way to go before hyperloop becomes a full reality.
Unlike its rival Virgin Hyperloop One, HTT has yet to complete a successful test of its hyperloop capsules.
HTT has focused its efforts on securing regulatory approvals and legal frameworks for hyperloop travel. Last year, it announced a strategic partnership with insurer Munich Re to develop insurance for high-speed capsule transportation.
“The passenger needs to be at the center,” Ahlborn said.
HTT has also signed commercial agreements to build tracks in China, Ukraine and the UAE but to date no hyperloop commercial tracks are up and running. HTT has only carried out so-called “feasibility studies” that aim to explore if a hyperloop system is economically viable in some countries so we all still have to sit and wait, like I do, on the floor of crowded London bound trains travelling at a measly 90 mph when we could be breaking the sound barrier instead… One day though maybe I’ll be sitting on the floor of a hyperloop instead.