In what the Los Angeles company developing the technology said was the first successful test of a futurist transit system called hyperloop, a car-sized sled powered by electromagnets rocketed to more than 100 miles (160 kph) an hour through the Nevada desert.
Elon Musk, the founder of rocket maker SpaceX and electric car company Tesla Motors had suggested sending pods holding passengers and cargo inside giant vacuum tubes between Los Angeles and San Francisco and Hyperloop One is among several companies competing to bring to life a technical vision by them.
Hyperloop One already has raised $80 million from backers including clean technology venture capitalist Khosla Ventures; high-speed railway SNCF, the French National Rail Company; and GE Ventures even though it’s a matter of debate how soon – or whether – passengers and cargo will ride the system at velocities approaching 750 miles per hour (1,200 kph).
The test was termed as a major milestone by Brogan BamBrogan, a former SpaceX engineer who co-founded Hyperloop One.
“Technology development testing can be a tricky beast. You never know on a given day if things are going to work exactly like you want,” he said to a crowd of 300.
The sled was rocketed to 105 miles per hour by electromagnets as electricity was shot into copper coils after it began its journey on a train track. The sled send out silicon sprays after a short ride as it ran into a sand trap. Sleds will levitate and carry pods in a test later this year if all goes according to plan. Gigantic tubes already are scattered around the Las Vegas area test site.
A hyperloop would transport cargo by 2019 and passengers by 2021, Company Chief Executive Rob Lloyd forecast on Wednesday.
“We’re practicing large, fast construction that includes robotic welding. Techniques that allow us to create a perfect production level, what people think takes years should take quarters,” he said.
For around $6 billion, a 10th of the cost of the state’s high-speed rail project, California could build a hyperloop from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Musk said which created a a stir.
The proposed costs are likely to be far greater due to real-world challenges ranging from construction permits to making the new technology work, say skeptics.
“The hyperloop might be promising, but it’s still unproven and just an idea. High-speed rail is a proven technology that’s been in use around the world for decades,” said Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman with the California High Speed Rail Authority.
The same challenges as of any other large infrastructure project, including funding, right of way, environmental permits, approvals and clearances would have to be faced by a hyperloop, she said.
“None of it is easy,” she said.
The cost estimates from hyperloop backers do not fully take into account difficulties such as engineering turns at jet speed or even digging tunnels, said Alon Levy, a mathematician who writes about mass transit for the blog Pedestrian Observations.
“I do think Hyperloop can be built. But making it work requires much more money than the builders think, and much more than conventional high-speed rail,” he said.
(Adapted from Reuter)