After over a year of incremental progress and underwhelming, low-speed tests, the hyperloop is finally starting to show us what it can do. On July 29th, Hyperloop One’s prototype pod accelerated down the length of its 500-meter-long test tube in the Nevada desert, reaching a top speed of 192 mph before gliding to a stop. The company claims it was the fastest hyperloop test yet — which isn’t a tough sell considering Hyperloop One is the only company in the world that we know of with a full-scale hyperloop.
The nearly airless tube was depressurized down to the equivalent of air at 200,000 feet above sea level, the company says. The pod, dubbed the XP-1, glided above the track using magnetic levitation, which limits aerodynamic drag and theoretically allows for a top speed of 760 mph. In a statement, Hyperloop One Chair Shervin Pishevar didn’t mince words: “When you hear the sound of the Hyperloop, you hear the sound of the future.”
Apparently, the future sounds like a little dog whining in your ear. Or like a low-grade TIE Fighter from Star Wars. Which is not to say it didn’t sound very, very neat. Footage provided by Hyperloop One shows the company’s crew, sporting hard hats and neon yellow shirts, loading the pod into the tube using some sort of large, 10-wheeled pusher vehicle. The pod is 28 feet long, constructed of structural aluminum and carbon fiber, and looks like a futuristic, aerodynamic bus.
Before loading it into the tube, though, the Hyperloop One team made sure the pod was nice and clean, which led to this adorable moment with Pishevar and Josh Giegel, the company’s co-founder and lead engineer. Cute!
It was a big leap forward from the company’s first full-system test last May: the pod traveled 4.5 times further, achieved 2.7 times faster speeds, and experienced 3.5 times more horsepower. And thanks to cameras attached to the pod, as well as stationed throughout the tube, we got plenty of cool shots like this.
In May, the company’s prototype vehicle pulled 2 Gs while reaching 70 miles per hour down the length of the company’s test track. In a subsequent interview, Giegel said the test was “the catalyst to move to the next level.” Both tests were conducted in private, apparently part of a concerted move to tone down some of its public rhetoric since the company’s much-hyped first test lasted only about two seconds. Conducted in May 2016, the test featured a 1,500-pound metal sled shooting down a short track before crashing into a pile of sand. Several weeks later, Hyperloop One’s chief technology officer was ousted from the company, sparking a bitter legal battle that was eventually resolved late last year.
Since then, Hyperloop One has put the acrimony behind it, focusing instead on hitting its milestones in an effort to convince its international partners that the hyperloop not only works, but can overcome the skepticism about the cost and viability of flinging passengers and cargo through a vacuum tube at the speed of a Boeing 747.
Pishevar and Giegel have been traveling the world in recent months, selling its vision of near-supersonic travel to government officials and investors. Despite being based in LA and building its test track in Nevada, Hyperloop One has mostly focused its attention outside the US. The company has feasibility studies underway in the United Arab Emirates, Finland and Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Moscow, and the UK. The company is also eyeing fewer than a dozen regions in the US as possible future locations for its ultrafast, futuristic transportation system.
To be sure, the hyperloop has a host of challenges to overcome before it can claim to revolutionize transportation. It’s very difficult to build anything new in the US, especially something as huge and enormously expensive as the hyperloop. This is an entirely new technology, built from scratch without any of the right-of-way allowances, land acquisitions, or regulatory approvals that other modes of transportation, like the railway, currently enjoy.
To be sure, Hyperloop One isn’t alone in its pursuit of ultrafast, tube-based travel. Another LA-based startup, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, has been much quieter, but insists it is also building a passenger-ready, full-scale hyperloop. Hyperloop One’s ousted co-founder, Brogan BamBrogan, took his settlement money and started his own hyperloop company, Arrivo. And just recently Elon Musk, who first conceived of the hyperloop back in 2013, announced that his tunneling side project the Boring Company had received “verbal approval” from the Trump administration to construct a New York-to-Washington underground hyperloop.
The race to build the world’s first fully operational hyperloop is on.