“Our transportation is broken and it sucks – nobody loves to travel anymore. We just want to get to our destination.”
You just have to look at Cape Town’s metro to see what SingularityU South Africa Summit speaker Andres de Leon means – travelling in the city by train is a heavily calculated experience, weighing up factors like time and safety very carefully – especially when being squished like a sardine during peak time.
WATCH: This is what a Hyperloop station might look like in the future
Traffic jams, road accidents, air pollution – these are critical headaches brought on by the transportation industry, but what is the solution?
The hyperloop was envisioned by Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX companies, but they open-sourced the design so that other companies could also jump onboard this possibly world-changing technology.
The concept is a high-speed capsule transportation system inside a low vacuum tube. Electromagnetic propulsion enables emission-free transport while the levitated capsule reduces friction.
SEE: Virgin Hyperloop One is set to launch their first European research centre in Spain
Here are a few fast facts.
Infographic: Gabi Zietsman
The first wholly hyperloop company to be established was Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT) which De Leon is COO of – it’s also one of the world’s first crowd-sourced companies, made up of a combination of worldwide collaborators, full-time employees and those who offer their services in exchange for stock options. About 70 000 hours were contributed to the dream before a single investor dollar was accepted.
While hyperloop aims to reduce transit time and revolutionise public transport, it will have other wider ramifications – the density of city-living will be eased as more people would be able to live further away from city centres and still only take 20 minutes to get to work.
“Where distant friends become neighbours and countries become neighbourhoods,” says a very flashy promo video from HyperloopTT. Suburbs will become part of megacities and megacities will become megalopolis, breaking the limit of continental distance.
Basically, it would take roughly an hour from Cape Town to Johannesburg with hyperloop. You’d be able to live anywhere and still work in a city centre with a comfortable commute.
While it may sound like it’s decades away, De Leon says it’s already here and they are ready to build. They already have partnership agreements in place for Abu Dhabi, India, Ukraine and China.
“We are starting from scratch without having to worry about legacy materials,” adds De Leon.
They even created a brand new sensor-embedded carbon fibre material to make the capsules, aptly naming it after the super metal from Marvel comic books – Vibranium.
The capsule itself can be imagined as an airplane without wings, with windows that will have personalised augmented reality to make the experience of travel more enjoyable.
“But we need to make sure that we can build the infrastructure without creating more problems.”
The whole system needs to be adaptable to the cities and countries they will be built in, with minimal impact on the surrounding environment.
SEE: Musk's Hyperloop project goes to China
What are the criticisms of the hyperloop?
While companies are gearing up hard and fast to make hyperloop a reality - like HyperloopTT - some have raised concerns that the rush to be the first to build it could overlook crucial issues.
Another issue raised is that the speeds of the hyperloop could affect certain parts of the population - especially the elderly - who would not be able to tolerate the strain put on the human body. Emergency exits are also another priority that hasn't been adequately addressed, as well as the need for willingness from governments to come onboard with constructing this system.
READ: Should SA invest in a hyperloop between Cape Town and Joburg?
HyperloopTT first needs to show off its prototype and license their designs to other transport companies for it to really take off, but it’s not that far in the future. In fact, human trials are expected to start next year already.
“If somebody tells you ‘you can’t do it’, it’s just because they haven’t figured it out yet.”
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