Hyperloop is the next big thing

Companies develop HyperloopRace for the mega pneumatic tube

May 12, 2017, a test site in the Nevada desert, north of Las Vegas. It is eight o'clock in the evening and the vacuum pumps have just begun to evacuate a 500-meter-long tube. Shortly before midnight, there is only a thousandth of normal air pressure in the three-meter-thick tube. Then an engineer starts the countdown in a container that has been converted into a control room.

Just a brief rumble, but it inspires the crew. A small sled on wheels has set itself in motion in the tube, an electric drive has accelerated it to 110 km / h. The journey takes only five seconds and ends after 100 meters. But the people at Hyperloop One celebrate it as a decisive breakthrough.

The world will see something it has never seen, or even thought possible, says company founder Josh Giegel in his spontaneous speech, champagne bottle in hand. Then his partner Shervin Pishevar picks up the microphone. "When we started the company, it was a crazy idea. We've all just made history here. We're going to change the world - and we're not going to give up!"

Hyperloop One has been around since 2014. The Californian start-up was inspired by one of the mind games Elon Musk is known for - the billionaire mogul who is behind companies like Tesla and SpaceX. Musk made the first hints at a technology conference in May 2013 - which caused a real uproar in the industry.

"Is there a faster way to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco? The bullet train that is being discussed is not a good solution, it is too slow and too expensive. An alternative would be the Hyperloop - a mixture of the Concorde, a rail cannon and an air hockey table. "

Musk later specified the concept: Hyperloop, a kind of Transrapid that chases through a vacuum pumped tunnel, either underground or above the ground on stilts. Due to the lack of air resistance, crazy speeds should be possible, up to 1,200 km / h. San Francisco could be reached from Los Angeles in half an hour - and at the prices of a cheap flight ticket.

Prototype accelerates to 300 km / h

Enthusiasts sensed the next big thing, quit their jobs and founded companies - including Josh Giegel and Shervin Pishevar. Today Hyperloop One has more than 200 employees - and is the only one with a working prototype. And things seem to be moving forward: While the test in May was a simple sled that the electric motor accelerated to 110 km / h, a much more impressive demonstration was achieved at the end of July.

Another countdown, but this time the XP-1 shoots through the tube, a futuristic-looking projectile, almost nine meters long. The wheels only rumble for the first second. Then the capsule lifts off and floats on the magnetic rail with almost no friction.

It progresses a good 400 meters and reaches more than 300 km / h. Only: the capsule is still unmanned. The company founders cannot or do not want to reveal when people should take a test drive. Their goal: There should be three commercial routes by 2021, anywhere in the world. But Hyperloop One has competition.

Engineer Brogan Bambrogan left Hyperloop One in a dispute and founded his own start-up with Arrivo. The development goal could be a "Hyperloop light" - slower than the competition, but technically simpler because there is no vacuum system. And there would be a third party in the league: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a project around the German businessman Dirk Ahlborn. The highlight of this vehicle: screens should simulate windows to make the tube trip more pleasant.

Cars could also be transported through the tunnels

So far, however, there have only been announcements: A 30-meter-long transport capsule should be ready in 2018, according to the company, a test track is being prepared in California. And Elon Musk? For a long time he seemed to be content with the role of the idea generator. At the end of 2016, however, he founded a company that aims to revolutionize tunneling with innovative drilling technology. The Boring Company is the ambiguous name.

"There is no real limit, with the technology you could build tunnels as long as you want. And if you think a hyperloop route between New York and Washington, you would probably build it underground. After all, the area is pretty heavily developed."

But Hyperloop is not the main reason behind it. Musk primarily thinks of tunnels, through which cars on electric sledges race through the underground, only to be lifted to the surface by an elevator at their destination - the latest idea from a technology mogul whose thoughts keep the high-tech industry in turmoil.