Technology has always been about change for the betterment of mankind. Transportation is one of the fields in which man is always looking for more and advances in order to have fast, safe and economical modes of transportation. Not satisfied with high speed cars, trains, bulletin trains, monorails, metros, aeroplanes and jet packs, scientists and technologists are looking forward for more fascinating modes of fast transportation like Hyperloop. Said to be faster than trains, safer than cars and less damaging to the environment than aircrafts, hyperloop technology is quickly gaining traction. Although in theory it sounds fantastic, it is important to consider the several challenges hyperloop faces in both construction and its impact on society. The biggest speed bump hyperloop faces is the cost of the technology and elaborate tube system, estimated to cost millions of dollars. It’s said to be two to three times faster than high-speed rail and the engineering behind hyperloop has made it immune to bad weather conditions, resistant to earthquakes and one of the safest modes of transportation. This would therefore reduce or completely eradicate the lengthy and annoying delays we all face on commutes to and from work. Hyperloop is challenging all modes of transport in the race against time and is expected to be ready for commercial operations by 2021.
Floating of Hyperloop idea
Hyperloop transit is moving from wheels to winged flight; from fuel engines to electricity and from hours to minutes. When Elon Reeve Musk (USA) Founder, CEO, Lead Designer of SpaceX, a company dedicated for the development of Hyperloop transit system, in 2013 first time presented his paper on the hyperloop, a multitude of organizations started working on this technology that promises to revolutionize the mode of transit. The idea seems simple of small, sleek pods carrying cargo and hurtling through vacuumized (de-pressurized) tubes at speeds approaching the sonic barrier. Vacuum-based hyperloop technology could transport passengers between cities cheaply at more than half the speed of sound. The hyperloop sounds almost too good to be true, and many critics have said as much, branding the idea impractical, unsafe and – for various political and economic reasons – unrealizable. But in the last few years since Musk’s white paper, at least three major start-ups have been created, and dozens of academics and industry professionals have climbed on board – figuratively if not yet literally. Their hope is to revolutionize public transport and, in so doing, restructure society for the better.
Technology and its status
Hyperloop is a high-speed passenger transport system that involves a sealed tube through which high-speed pods move, slashing travel times. At atmospheric pressure, air resistance mounts swiftly with speed, which is why supersonic jets tend to fly at high altitude. To avoid consuming huge amounts of energy, therefore, a near-sonic or supersonic vehicle at ground level needs an evacuated environment in which to travel. A tube is the obvious solution, although one containing a near vacuum would have to be resistant to the tiniest crack or leaky seal. Friction is reason for proposed tube containing merely low-pressure air, at about one millibar. The residual air brings a problem, however, in that a snugly-fitting vehicle will, at high speeds, have to push an entire air column ahead of it which is not good. The entrepreneur (Musk) therefore proposed mounting a compressor fan in the nose of the hyperloop pod to transfer air backwards. In fact, he said, the air could even be channelled beneath the pod, creating a cushion for the pod to ride on, like an air-hockey puck. Meanwhile, contactless linear induction motors, placed at intervals along the tube, would supply an alternating magnetic field to accelerate the pod.
In Musk’s original concept, the pods floated on a layer of pressurized air, in a similar way to pucks floating on an air hockey table. However, a more recent version of the technology from Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) - one of two companies leading the hyperloop race -uses passive magnetic levitation to achieve the same effect. The technology has been licensed to HTT from Lawrence Livermore National Labs (LLNL). This method is thought to be cheaper and safer than traditional maglev systems. Magnetic levitation, or maglev, is when an object is suspended in the air using only magnetic fields and no other support. Along with super-fast maglev trains, magnetic levitation has various engineering uses including magnetic bearings. It can also be used for display and novelty purposes, such as floating speakers. Magnetic levitation’s best-known use is in maglev trains. Currently only in operation in a handful of countries, including China and Japan, Maglev trains are the fastest in the world, with a record speed of 375 mph (603 km/h). However, the train systems are incredibly expensive to construct. There are two main types of maglev train technology - electromagnetic suspension (EMS) and electrodynamics suspension (EDS). EMS uses electronically controlled electromagnets in the train to attract it to a magnetic steel track, while EDS uses superconducting electromagnets on both the train and the rail to produce a mutually repellent force that makes the carriages levitate. A variant of EDS technology uses an array of permanent magnets on the underside of the train, instead of powered electromagnets or cooled superconducting magnets and is known as passive magnetic levitation technology.
A third start-up, TransPod, entered the scene in 2015. Although this Canada-based firm has had less public exposure than HTT and Hyperloop One, co-founder Ryan Janzen believes it stands a better chance of success because none of its major components are going to come off the shelf; instead they are all being designed specifically to suit the needs of their hyperloop technology, drawing on expertise from across the rail, aerospace and space, and architecture sectors. TransPod hopes to deliver a “commercially viable product” by 2020, and has developed algorithms that can design optimal routes between cities, taking into account geography and existing infrastructure. With this method, magnets are placed on the underside of the capsules in an array. This focuses the magnetic force of the magnets on one side of the array while almost entirely cancelling out the field on the other side. These magnetic fields cause the pods to float as they pass over electromagnetic coils embedded in the track. Thrust from linear motors propels the pods forward. Other version of Hyperloop is also using a passive magnetic levitation system where pod-side permanent magnets repel a passive track, with the only input energy coming from the speed of the pod. For both systems, air pressure in the tunnels is lowered using air pumps in order to aid the pods’ movement. The low air pressure dramatically reduces drag so that only a relatively small amount of electricity is needed to achieve top speeds.
Social concerns and benefits
The Hyperloop would comprise a network of low-pressure tubes through which pods filled with passengers and freight could be propelled at speeds of more than 1000 km/h. Because its propulsion system would be electric, the Hyperloop is being billed as a faster, cleaner, and safer way to transport people and goods. Each of hyperloop’s key components – propulsion, levitation, guidance, control and reduced pressure – are all technologies that have been well established in different spheres and the goal now is to get them to work in concert. Hyperloop proponents believe the infrastructure cost would be roughly similar to that posed by high-speed rail, which is seen as the main competitor. Hyperloops have no shortage of other criticisms. Sceptics have claimed that the systems will be highly susceptible to everything from power outages and acoustic noise to earthquakes and terror attacks. One of the potential technological problems to mention is occurrence of a strip light due to high voltage inside a vacuum tube.
Hyperloop will reduce travel and thus improve access to education and will contribute towards solving the housing crisis. Hyperloop for transport of goods will improve delivery time, avoid damage to packages and decrease the number of delivery cars, resulting in less emissions. The infrastructure for the tube proposed to be above ground will reduce the cost of building underground or buying up land to use, and to avoid spoiling property of landowners. Using very small amount of electricity and solar power to move the pods of hyperloop makes this one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transport alongside the electric car. The developments associated with hyperloop have led to thousands of job opportunities in engineering and technology. Research, development and testing are still underway, with millions of investors interested in developing the project. Hyperloop is one of the most advanced technologies in transportation to date, and it has created a massive shift in human ingenuity. Whether it’s three years away or 30, Hyperloop poses some very effective and promising opportunities for society.