Hyperloop- The What, Why and How

By Preyaan Gupta

Imagine that you have just got that dream job you always wanted. But, while you are comfortably settled in Pune, this job would require you to relocate to Mumbai – one of the most expensive cities in India. Not quite ideal? But what if I told you that you could wake up in your home in Pune, reach your office in Bombay, and travel back home for the night? Seems unrealistic? The Hyperloop is here to change that.

Elon Musk, arguably the most forward-thinking man on the planet, with aims to take mankind to Mars came up with the paper “Hyperloop Alpha” in 2013 with a goal to revolutionize transport forever. It is often said that the Hyperloop is prospectively to become the fifth mode of transport, after road, water, rail and air.

But you could ask, what is the need for another mode of transport. Don’t we have enough? Will it not just result in more pollution? Will it not be too expensive for the middle class to travel in like most forms of transport? So today let me explain to you what the hyperloop actually is and why I believe that it is going to change the face of travel as we have known for so long.

To go back to my earlier point of inter-city travel, you might wonder how one could wake up in one city, travel to another, and return home at the end of the day. Well, the hyperloop is predicted to reach speeds of 1000km/hr. But how is it even possible? Turns out that fundamentally, there is a very easy solution to achieving high speeds, minimizing friction. Only if it were so easy, it would have been done long back. Let’s look into how the hyperloop minimizes friction to an almost negligible value.

Consider a road car. There are basically two negative forces- friction between the tires and the road, and the drag force due the car moving through air. A train has the same negative forces. Ships replace the road-tire friction with the friction between water and the ship’s underbody. Similarly, airplanes although do not have any road friction (while in air of course), they have to overcome enormous amounts of air drag. So how does the hyperloop overcome these?

A hyperloop is basically a pod, which travels through a tunnel. But what is so special about this tunnel? The tunnel has been de-pressurised. This effectively means that there is little to almost no air inside. What this does is that it minimizes the air drag. Further, since it is almost impossible to create a completely airless environment, the highly skilled aerodynamic engineers look to streamlining the shape of the pod, further decreasing the already low drag force.

But we still have to worry about the friction which has to be overcome. This is done by making the pod levitate through various ways (which will be discussed in a separate article altogether). The levitation height is not more than a couple of inches at best, but it achieves the purpose of nullifying the contact between the pod wheels and the ground. This helps the pod achieve extremely high speeds.

Coming to the point of pollution, I think it is fairly obvious to presume that if the founder of the largest electric car manufacturing company were to write a paper on the future of transportation, it would be green. And it is. Musk has even further gone on to state that the de-pressurizing chambers, which would require a great amount of power, would be completely self-sufficient and would draw power from solar panels placed on the outer side of the tubes. It isn’t for nothing that we believe the hyperloop to be the future of transportation.

But what about the cost? Will it be as pricey as air travel? This is a very difficult question to answer as the hyperloop is in a fairly infant stage as of now. But I believe that after the cost of infrastructure to set up the system has been covered, other than maintenance, there aren’t many remaining expenditures. If you think about it, the primary reason for the high costs of flight travel is fuel. And hyperloop requires no fuel. So, in the long run, the prices should be affordable.

The hyperloop is a very promising concept. Several companies are working on developing their own versions of it. Several companies like Virgin have even began testing. Going by the current speed, it isn’t going to be in the distant future when we see the hyperloop being a primary mode of travel for several people.