This week, HyperloopOne released a concept video of their plans to actually building Elon Musk’s concept of a 5th mode of transport. That video that is just 2 minutes, 32 seconds long, but contains a lot we need to digest.
To get started in this break down we begin with the date. 4:29PM on October 9th 2020. At this point Hyperloop is still very much a theoretical transport, while there’s been design, engineering and small tests, as we approach the end of 2016, there is no actual working hyperloop. There’s a lot of work to do before the system becomes operational in just 3 years. The technology problems will undoubtedly be solved with so many smart people working on the project, but that still leaves government safety regulations, consumer demand and the associated costs for R&D, return on investment and the realities of commercial business models.
The next point is location of the first Hyperloop. In the first few seconds of the video we learn of the plan for Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates is to be one of the first locations in the world the ultra-fast transport will be built. This makes a lot of sense given this brand new technology will at least initially be incredibly expensive to build, placing it in a location that has plenty of wealth makes lots of sense.
Later in the video, we learn the other end of the first Hyperloop is to be Dubai, well known for their elaborate, stunning city where money is no object. The distance between the two cities is 159km, a journey that takes 1hr 56 minutes by car, or 1hr 30 mins by train. Hyperloop would slash that time to just 10 minutes.
On the Hyperloop One website, they list another example of time saving between Melbourne and Sydney. A journey that takes 8 hours 39 minutes, would take just 41 minutes in the Hyperloop. This would open the door to people living in one city and working in another, or at least an inter-state tourism boom by significantly lowering the barrier to entry, time. In terms of the other barrier, cost, the economics are still very much to be determined, but if the journey can be on-par or cheaper than flying and much easier and faster, then it’d be an easy sell.
We often think of Hyperloop as a passenger transport system, however the video also shows the system being used for cargo. While cargo may well include commuter baggage like suitcases, its possible entire pods could be used for cargo as in freight.
With the majority of the distribution of goods being done with trucks, a delivery network that included hyperloop could reduce delivery times and costs, but would have an impact of eliminating or at least severely reducing interstate truck driver positions. Like the train network, it would also affect the loading/unloading of goods at termination points, with the infrastructure likely to require an Amazon-style automation to direct Hyperloop-to-road transport.
There’s obvious restrictions in the size of pods used for freight. You may throw a few hundred iPhones down the tube, but its unlikely we’ll be loading up cars for dealer delivery any time soon. There’ll certainly be an art in managing the division between passenger and freight pods. Assuming most people continue to travel during daylight hours, its possible the bulk of fright gets done overnight which potentially gives a path to 24 hour revenue from the Hyperloop, reducing the return on investment.
One of the most interesting ideas to come from the video is the idea that you don’t just get yourself to and from the Hyperloop, instead that transport pods may actually drive on the road with regular vehicles. Arrivals are dealt with above the ground, while departure pods enter the control station via street access and venture below street access to enter the Hyperloop. It’s a crazy concept, but overlayed with the timeframe of autonomous vehicles, its possible this could be a new competitor to Uber.
If you haven’t seen the video yet, do yourself a favour and check it out below.