Need for speed: has Hyperloop One invented a time machine?

Akin to the Wright brothers’ first plane, the futuristic technology is a ‘moon-shot’ idea that turns hours into minutes, says the creative director of Hyperloop One, Colin Rhys

Why there is so much buzz around Hyperloop technology?

Hyperloop turns hours into minutes. There’s this comment that it’s all about the journey, but for us it’s about the destination. We want to give back the time that people have lost to traffic, delays, and airport security. The core principle is giving time back to people.

We are also a “range extender” for autonomous vehicles, which will be able to plug into the Hyperloop system. So just like any of our little pods go on to a transporter and then go though the tube, an autonomous vehicle can now have a part that allows them to go onto the Hyperloop as well. It’ll be moving cargo, people and other vehicles. It’s much deeper than just the speed.

How did Hyperloop One come about?

The concept was initially spearheaded by Elon Musk, and he open-sourced the programme. Our co-founder, Shervin Pishevar, went to him and said, “Can I run with this idea?” Shervin then went out and built a team of engineers and other individuals to help him assemble this moon-shot idea. A lot of the people came from SpaceX, Tesla, Virgin Galactic… some of the best and brightest minds in the world.

Over the course of the last 19 months we’ve raised US$150m, we now have three test and development campuses, and we continue to grow every day, very rapidly.

How are landscape and geography beneficial to the Hyperloop?

Hyperloop doesn’t like hills and valleys, and Dubai is very flat. There is also a lot of open space for us to use. We don’t have to go tunnelling into the city and cause massive disruption. For your first product, you want to make it in an environment that is friendly.

The other thing about Dubai is that the leadership under His Highness [Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai] is so forward-thinking. They’re always thinking about ways to improve the lives of people in Dubai.

One of our biggest challenges is the regulatory work that has to go in hand with it. If we have a government such as the UAE, and more importantly Dubai, saying “we want to help make this technology happen because we want to improve the lives of our citizens” – that’s the environment that we want to work in.

What are the terms of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and Hyperloop One agreement?

This agreement is a framework to establish a few specific things. For example, what would be the key connection points in Dubai and the UAE? How would this technology integrate into the existing transportation modes that the RTA has built? Hyperloop is not a replacement for those. We want to make sure we work as closely as possible with RTA to support the vision that they have for public transportation.

Hyperloop One: The Future Is Happening

How will you make this theory a reality?

We’ll be having a full-scale “Kitty Hawk” moment in [Q1 of 2017] – when you’ll see a full-scale pod, inside a tube, levitating. Then, the theory becomes a reality very quickly.

We have our main headquarters in Los Angeles. We then have our 100,000sq ft production factory, in Las Vegas, which is where we take the smaller prototyping pieces and produce them for our full-scale testing facility, where we have the space to build [3km] of tube. We like to keep everything centralised in LA, making it as collaborative as possible.

Hyperloop isn’t widely acknowledged by the general public yet. When will it kick off on a global scale?

I think in the next three months you will start seeing a kick-off on a global scale – just like when the Wright brothers got that first plane into the sky. I really believe that once the world sees that, once they see a pod levitating, a low-pressure tube… something moving incredibly fast, people will believe this is real.

This then allows us to go to places like India, other countries in the GCC, the Northern regions of the UK, Australia, other places that we’re heavily investigating. All of a sudden we’re not just pitching a concept, we’re pitching an actual thing, and that’s when it will change for people.

What is the timeline for this to happen?

I’d like to see this happen here in Dubai before it happens in Las Vegas. We see Dubai as the perfect candidate to build the first proof-of-operations facility. That would be 40-50km of tube, a large-scale testing facility, a regulatory facility… Dubai can really be at the centre of this growth that’s going to happen because of Hyperloop. Other regulatory bodies from around the world that want to have a Hyperloop will need to come to Dubai to learn about it. We have a timeline of delivering Hyperloop to Dubai by Expo 2020 – that’s our [current] mission.

Will Hyperloop be open to the public by that point?

We will continue to make tests all the way up until Expo 2020. We’d like to see passengers by October 2020.

 

This article has been edited to reflect the following corrections:

·The Kitty Hawk moment is scheduled for Q1 2017

·Hyperloop One have a team of 200 throughout their global operations

·DevLoop is 3km, a previous version of this article stated that it was 8km

·Hyperloop One were incorporated in June 2014