Hyperloop technology is fast growing, and it’s gaining popularity around the world. It would help to know what this technology is about, and how it works. It is for this reason we have decided to write on the benefits of the hyperloop.
What is Hyperloop?
Hyperloop is a modern system of ground transport that is currently in development by a number of companies, It could see passengers traveling at over 700 miles an hour in a floating pod that races along inside giant low-pressure tubes, either above or below ground.
The system consists of sealed and partially evacuated tubes, connecting mobility hubs in large metropolitan areas, and pressurized vehicles, usually called pods, which can move at very high speeds.
What makes Hyperloop different?
There are two big differences between Hyperloop and traditional rail. Initially, the pods carrying passengers travel through tubes or tunnels from which most of the air has been removed to reduce friction. This should allow the pods to travel at up to 750 miles per hour.
Then, rather than using wheels like a train or car, the pods are designed to float on air skis, using the same basic idea as an air hockey table, or using magnetic levitation to reduce friction.
How does hyperloop technology work?
Hyperloop systems are long straight tubes. Electromagnetic force levitates and propels pods inside a near-vacuum tube to reduce air friction and drag. The pods effectively float on a frictionless magnetic cushion. The tube is a low-pressure environment that enables high speed for low energy consumption.
A linear induction motor makes it possible to move in a straight line.
Within the tubes, pods travel for hundreds of kilometers at high speed, carrying passengers or cargo/cars between two locations — unlike trains, there are no stops along the way. The engineers can build tubes above or below ground. The aim is to have pods departing their destination in high rotation with low passenger wait times.
The development of high-speed transportation was hampered by air resistance and friction. Elon Musk proposed to remove the air from the tunnel using an electrically driven inlet fan and an axial compressor. He proposed that the capsules float above the surface, similar to how pucks float above an air hockey table. This will remove the second barrier, friction.
The Hyperloop companies are using magnetic levitation instead of air pucks. The pods will move through the specially designed tunnels where most of the air will be sucked out. Companies like Virgin Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation technologies use this principle in their design.
How does a Hyperloop tube work?
The basic idea of the Hyperloop as envisioned by Musk is that the passenger pods or capsules travel through a tube, either above or below ground. To reduce friction, most — but not all — of the air is removed from the tubes by pumps.
Overcoming air resistance is one of the biggest uses of energy in high-speed travel. Airliners climb to high altitudes to travel through less dense air; in order to create a similar effect at ground level, Hyperloop encloses the capsules in a reduced-pressure tube, effectively allowing the trains to travel at airplane speeds while still on the ground.
In Musk’s model, the pressure of the air inside the Hyperloop tube is about one-sixth the pressure of the atmosphere on Mars (a notable comparison as Mars is another of Musk’s interests). This means an operating pressure of 100 pascals, which reduces the drag force of the air by 1,000 times relative to sea level conditions and would be equivalent to flying above 150,000 feet.
Why do we need a hyperloop?
Intercity and international travels are at capacity. There aren’t enough bus drivers. In many cities, overcrowded airports are unable to meet demand, and it’s often cheaper to fly than travel by train. Hyperloop promises to fill in that gap and deliver speed and sustainability to transport people and cargo alike.
What are the advantages of hyperloop tech?
Hyperloop technology offers several significant advantages over other modes of transport:
The technology aims to propel passenger or cargo pods at speeds of over 1000 km/h. This is 3x faster than high-speed rail and more than 10x faster than traditional rail.
Imagine a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes — a distance of around 559 km. Hyperloop travel from Frankfurt to Amsterdam is 439 km and would take a mere 50 minutes — it’s currently around 4 hours 26 minutes by car.
It’s as fast as a train but cheaper than conventional high-speed rail.
Lower carbon emissions
The hyperloop offers low-energy long-distance travel, running on electricity and solar energy. Solar panels on the roof of above-ground hyperloops could generate energy. The tubes could also store electricity with the help of batteries.
Further, freight traveling by hyperloop would alleviate the high carbon emissions of trucks.
The Hyperloop is less vulnerable to bad weather such as rain, snow, wind, and earthquakes. There’s no risk of train tracks buckling due to the heat in summer as with high-speed rail.
It’s easier to add layers of tunnels than a lane to a road. According to the Boring Company, stations could be as small as two parking spaces and thus easily integrated into city centers, parking garages, and residential areas.
Compliments on current and future transport
The Hyperloop shape provides the capacity to build other transport above or below the hyperloop tube, such as moving sidewalks, walkways, and e-scooter and cycle paths.
City planners can create designs to combine access to flying taxis, autonomous vehicles, and hyperloops.
Disadvantages of hyperloop technology?
While hyperloop technology promises a new fifth mode of transport, it has several negatives:
It’s hard to price the construction and infrastructure costs. For example, seals are paramount to the pod hatches and doors. They will require regular maintenance — problematic when you consider most cities struggle to maintain bridges, train tracks, and roads in the first instance.
Land acquisition is a significant challenge. A report into the commercial feasibility of the hyperloop by NASA shared a cost of $25 – $27 million per mile for just the technology, excluding land acquisition, with the cost of an almost entirely underwater track specifically from Helsinki to Stockholm at the expense of $64 million per mile including vehicles.
Comparatively, California high-speed rail costs anywhere from $63 to $65 million per mile, and in Europe, the cost is $43 million per mile. However, those figures include costs of land acquisition but exclude train sets.
Safety is critical. Delft Hyperloop published a report in July 2020 which contends that the European hyperloop system needs at least the safety level of European commercial airlines in terms of passenger fatalities per passenger-kilometer. The report is design-agnostic and addresses potential safety scenarios in detail:
While the low-pressure environment prevents fire from breaking out in the tubes, a fire inside a pod is a real threat. The report recommends a system where mist and fire suppressants release automatically when it detects smoke.
Communication system challenges
How do you communicate within and to a hyperloop pod? The steel tube prevents wireless signals from reaching the pod. Further, due to the high speeds, pods often switch between communication cells, increasing the chance of handover failure, and temporary communication loss.
One option is Li-FI, a mobile wireless technology that uses light rather than radio frequencies to transmit data. LiFi is simpler than radio frequency communication and uses direct modulation similar to remote control units. LED light bulbs have high intensities and, therefore, can achieve substantial data rates.
Li-Fi is useful in environments that do not easily support Wi-Fi, such as aircraft cabins, hospitals, and hazardous environments.
However, cybersecurity is a significant threat to the hyperloop. The use of optical fibers could prevent hackers from physically intercepting communication signals.
Evacuating a hyperloop is difficult as the tubes are designed to have a limited number of exits. The goal of evacuation is to enable passengers to exit the hyperloop safely.
Expansion of Steel Tracks
As the hyperloop uses steel for the track, it expands and changes shape when the outside temperature is changed. This may destroy the track of hyperloop technology. This needs to be considered while designing the system based on the environment of the location where it is being deployed.
The Hyperloop Is a Revolution in Transport
Elon Musk described Hyperloop as the fifth form of transportation. It is a technology that was once only possible in theory. The wide-scale use of the Hyperloop needs more research and development to make it feasible for all. Musk made the idea much more reasonable to all who are interested. Fertile minds across the world are uniting to study this centuries-old idea. Since 2015, SpaceX has been conducting a Hyperloop Pod competition which creates curiosity among the scientific community to expand upon Musk’s vision.
The recent human trial conducted by Virgin Hyperloop One is a significant milestone in the history of the Hyperloop. We need to remember that it took many years to bring air travel from theory to practice. Comfortable travel at an affordable price in the least amount of time is ideal for many people. With advanced technology, traveling in a tunnel at supersonic speeds is not so far away.
In conclusion, the hyperloop is clearly the future of transportation. Very soon it’ll begin to run and then make transportation quicker and easier.