What would it mean if people could travel between Europe’s major cities in less than an hour, without ever leaving the ground?
This is the vision of the team of Dutch engineering students working on the Delft Hyperloop – a project that could fundamentally change the way Europeans travel. For the past eight months, the Netherlands-based team has been developing passenger pod designs for the hyperloop, an innovative new mode of transportation.
They’re just one of over 500 such teams, in locations as far apart as Pakistan and South Africa, working to produce designs for this new mode of transport. Their work has been inspired and kickstarted by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, who first released a white paper on the concept back in 2013.
If you’re not familiar with the Musk’s hyperloop, here’s how the technology works. It uses metal pods, which levitate on cushions of air, to move through elevated tubes. The lack of friction means that the pods can reach up to 800 mph – roughly the speed of sound, and faster than a Boeing 747 airplane.
Despite its super speed, hyperloop is expected to produce zero net carbon emissions, thanks to its reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Other benefits include lower construction costs than rail or air infrastructure, and resistance to bad weather conditions including earthquakes.
Oh, and did I mention that a hop across borders using hyperloop will set you back just $20 per journey?
Kian van der Enden is a member of the Delft-based engineering team that’s working on designs to move passengers between Amsterdam and Paris in just 30 minutes using this technology.
“Right now there are people commuting from Rotterdam to London because the flight takes an hour. But imagine travelling to any large city within 1,000km in less than an hour,” he says. “With those travel times, you come close to a normal work-home commute, which would mean being able to work in one country and live in another.”
The team doesn’t have a particular route in mind for their European hyperloop track yet, but Enden suggests that the barriers to progress are likely to be legislative rather than technical. “The largest hurdles for implementing the hyperloop in Europe will be obtaining the land to build it and the government actually allowing it to be built. Plus, connecting countries is a task on its own, since you need to comply with two or more sets of rules,” he explains.
A close up of the mechanism beneath the pod. Image: Delft Hyperloop.
Since his 2013 paper, Musk has continued his involvement with hyperloop by sponsoring competitions and showcases, such as last month’s pod design contest at Texas A&M University, at which Delft Hyperloop received the “Pod Innovation” prize. This summer, at least 22 of the teams who travelled to Texas will be invited to test their designs on Musk’s own hyperloop track in California, which is currently under construction.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a research company of over 100 engineers working collaboratively to make hyperloop a reality, has already filed construction permits for the world’s first passenger-ready hyperloop track in Quay Valley, California. It’s due for completion in 2018.
But the question of when exactly hyperloop might start operating in European cities is a difficult one for engineers to answer at this early stage. Much of the process depends on winning the cooperation of national and international authorities.
“Technologically speaking, it’s completely possible to build the hyperloop now, with around 2 to 4 years of careful engineering of both the tube and vehicle,” Enden says. “I’d like to see a working hyperloop track for passenger transport [in Europe] within 10 to 15 years.
“But a track connecting cities for the transport of goods can be realised sooner than that.”