There have been four significant developments that affect hyperloop and interrelated technologies — Elon Musk unveiled his 1.14-mile tunnel project beneath the surface of Los Angeles, HTT might fulfill earlier predictions that hyperloop will move freight first, Virgin Hyperloop One will be included in the U.S. pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, and Arrivo laid off workers.
NEW TUNNEL UNDER L.A.
Elon Musk says that traffic destroys his soul. Problematically, SpaceX is based in Hawthorne, California, and in Los Angeles County, people are forced to spend a lot of their time in cars, whether or not they’re actually moving forward. This pet peeve was likely circulating in the billionaire’s thoughts, where it no doubt intersected with his curiosity and ambition, resulting in a series of unexpected transportation projects. Hyperloop is one of those projects. But for it to work, it might need to be preceded by another experiment, which is equally bold. Musk and his team are trying to rethink the boring of tunnels.
If this process becomes dramatically faster and cheaper, the benefits for hyperloop might be threefold: Hyperloop could deal with surface level obstacles by cutting beneath them. Hyperloop could also operate in straight lines, allowing it to achieve the maximum speeds and high reliability that would truly differentiate it from existing modes of transportation. Simultaneously, an underground network wouldn’t have the security vulnerabilities of exposed tubes and pylons. (However, emergency evacuations might become more complicated.)
In the interim, a new network of underground tunnels could provide additional routes for autonomous electric vehicles. An early iteration of Elon Musk’s vision for “the Loop” proposed putting vehicles atop electric skates in the tunnels, but after Tuesday’s debut, Musk appears to have pivoted.
The vision now involves deployable tracking wheels that keep vehicles aligned and stabilized, but this revision presents a paradox. The tunnel infrastructure wouldn’t be useable until vehicles are retrofitted with these connecting wheels or manufactured with them, and automobile manufacturers other than Tesla might be hesitant to build these specially-designed vehicles if the infrastructure isn’t already in place.
Additionally, the electric skates model might have reduced the wear and tear on vehicles. Vehicles are expected to reach 150 mph in these tunnels.
Nevertheless, Musk says that his new approach is simpler. He also noted that a network of tunnels and elevators would allow massive amounts of unused space to be dedicated to transportation. The elevators can be pre-fabricated and installed easily on site. “The deepest mines are deeper than the tallest buildings,” said Musk.
At the event, journalists and attendees who rode a Tesla Model X through the short tunnel described their 40 mph ride as bumpy and reminiscent of an amusement park attraction. But this early preview can’t be fairly evaluated in isolation. It’s a prototype of something emerging and unsettled. The project makes the most sense when it’s viewed as one component of an iterative and interconnected transportation future. Once autonomous vehicles overcome the final technical problems and regulatory hurdles, the process of getting around will become more passive. A swift tunnel ride may be one aspect of a still sleepy passenger’s morning commute.
HTT’S FREIGHT DEAL
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies announced a joint venture with a German company that runs container terminals, with the hopes of bringing hyperloop to the Port of Hamburg and beyond. This could fulfill earlier predictions that hyperloop will move freight first. This usage doesn’t carry the same safety concerns as passenger travel, and it also represents an opportunity to serve a large and lucrative market.
HYPERLOOP AT EXPO 2020
Jay Walder, the new chief executive of Virgin Hyperloop One, says that hyperloop is the first new transportation technology in over a hundred years and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, in particular, have responded to this innovation with excitement.
The company will offer what it characterizes as a “ride experience” at Expo 2020 Dubai. This innovation will be showcased as part of the Pavilion USA 2020 team, under the theme “what moves you.” According to a public statement, the USA pavilion hopes to showcase the very best in cultural and commercial achievements.
Finally, as these advancements are made, one competitor in the space might not make it to the finish line. Arrivo has reportedly furloughed or laid off all of its employees after failing to secure new funding. The company began with an ousted co-founder of Hyperloop One, though its concept later evolved into something different than hyperloop. Reporting in The Verge also indicates that the company had an unstable work environment.