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Richard Branson Invests In Hyperloop Project

The project has been renamed as Virgin Hyperloop

Hyperloop One
Hyperloop One

Hyperloop One just renamed as Virgin Hyperloop One after Richard Branson of the Virgin Groups invested in the project.

Hyperloop One is the company working on a super fast transport system. That would be a self-driven magnetically propelled ground shuttle that would take passengers from one city to another in minutes.

Virgin Group includes a network of trains in U.K, airlines and a business to take tourists into space. “As a train owner I felt this is something that I want to be able to operate. At the moment our trains are limited to 125 miles an hour.” Said Branson.

Although the sum invested by Branson was not disclosed, however reports claim that it took the company’s total funding to £186m.

The company showed a full-scale test of the technology earlier this year at the Hyperloop One’s test site in Nevada. They carried out the test using a full-sized pod that reached 190mph. While the company is aiming for a top speed of 600mph-plus.

The idea was originally visioned by the head of Tesla, Elon Musk, back in 2013 titled as “Hyperloop Alpha”. Musk had always been a man of future, he had dreamed of making a super-fast ride for long distances that would be safe, comfortable, immune to environmental resistances and in reach of a common man.

He described it as a network of tubes elevated on columns that run between Los Angeles and San Francisco (381 miles) which would decrease the journey time from driving time 6 hours 30 minutes to just 35 minutes. Like as its done in the Silicon Valley, he “open-sourced’ the project, inviting others to take up its development.

Elon Musk Reveals Hyperloop
Elon Musk Reveals Hyperloop

Although the SpaceX head is not directly involved in this project, however he is busy working on a somewhat similar transport system for “underground”.

His new venture “The Boring Company” is a tunnel construction company that was founded last year after he mentioned his idea of building underground tunnels on Twitter. Musk claims that his company has secured verbal agreement with the US government to build an underground loop between New York and Washington DC.

The tunnel would be 10.3 mile long and it is the second tunnel “The Boring Company” has been allowed to dig after the two-mile test tunnel outside Los Angeles. The company declined to comment on the project but thanked the officials for their support.

Now that Branson is also involved in the hyperloop project, tech critics are still not fully satisfied, as they think that both the players in the hyperloop field are ignoring the massive hurdles they would face while turning this plan to reality.

Critics think that there are still many issues to be discussed like:

Technology Issues

While the hyperloop looks revolutionary, something straight from the future, it’s roots are still embedded in the past.

Musk’s plan involves a capsules being fitted with electric compressor fans to transfer high-pressure air to the back of the vessel. The high pressure from the back will force the vessel to move forward with greater velocity in the low pressure tubes.

Similarly, in the 19th century Pneumatic tube transport systems used to deliver small parcels using air compressors attached to the end of the tube. Those compressors created a partial vacuum that pulled the cargo along. Between 1870 and 1873 the Beach Pneumatic Transit system moved a carriage along 95 meter tunnel using compressed air.

If the same idea was successful in the past then why couldn’t be now? Small packages were used in the past to be transmitted from one place to the other. However, now the idea has evolved to the transmission of humans. A hyperloop that would safely carry people over long distances, raises serious engineering challenges.

The continuous compression of air required to move to the capsules would produce huge amount of heat, a problem that could be solved by air conditioning but would require wider and more expensive tunnels.

The other big issue that worries the engineers is “Thermal expansion”. It is the tendency of matter to change its shape, area or volume due to change in temperature. As the tunnel would be directed to sunlight, especially in the Californian desert, it would surely undergo thermal expansion. A 100 km pipe would expand by as much as 50 meters in length, potentially undermining the system by allowing air in. Same problem occurs with railways, but they cope with it by having rails that overlap at the end. Musk plans to avoid this situation by using expansion joints, however, for a distance as long as 381 miles, thousand of such joints would be required with a large maintenance team.

Safety Issues

Every machine at one point or other undergoes some glitches, however critics believe that Musk did not provide enough information regarding the errors, especially how would he manage them avoiding any fatalities.

“It’s an exciting engineering challenge, but not much has been released on the safety case,” says Philippa Oldham, head of technology and manufacturing at Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers. “The devil will be in the detail. We really need to know a lot more about safety features and what would happen if something went wrong.”

Adie Tomer, an infrastructure expert at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution said, “As something entirely new, it will require an intense amount of testing, possibly even more than for the pharmaceutical industry, where trials can take 10, 15 or 20 years,”

Even if it is proved to be safe, the hyperloop also needs to be relatively comfortable.

“Some people have called it the ‘barf tube’, because being accelerated at high speeds and then decelerated again is likely to make people sick,” said David Bailey, professor of industry at Aston Business School in Birmingham.

This depends upon the rate of acceleration. When a typical aircraft takes off, onboard passengers experience G-force of about 0.4. Musk says hyperloop capsules could reach a top speed of 760mp in around 70 seconds with the passengers experiencing 0.5G.

Lateral G-forces are experienced when we go around a bend. To suppress these to 0.5G, the turning radius should be kept about 23.5km at 670mph. For this, the routes would require to be straight or the capsules to slow down when curves are necessary. Still some passengers may feel nauseous.

The NIMBY Factor

Making such huge changes to populated areas is very challenging as environmental impact assessments have to be provided, which can take years to write. Such projects take decades to be completed. Work on a 16.2 mile extension to Washington DC’s subways started last year, having first been proposed in 1996. The project was delayed because of legal claims that the construction would undermine populations of Hay’s spring amphipod.

People also oppose the idea of their homes being demolished for new transport systems. “Finding and then obtaining the right land for infrastructure projects of this scale is a lot trickier than people realize. It’s what drives a lot of projects into the ground, whether because of the environmental protection of endangered species or people not wanting to give up their land and making the project take more expensive alternative routes.” Said Adie Tomer.

Customer Fears

Every mode of transportation offers some kind of risk and the customer’s perception of risk is more important than the actual risk when it comes to passengers’ choice of transportation. The hyperloop is too nascent to be taken seriously by people. A recent survey held by the American Automobile Association in March showed that 78% of Americans would be scared to get in a driverless car, while 45% would feel less safe to share a road with it.

Just the idea of underground fast capsule-travelling is way too scary for Claustrophobics and Tachophobics or for some normal people. Not everybody can digest the fact that they would be enclosed in a high-speed capsule in a narrow tunnel.

“We know from consumer research that people are scared to get into driverless cars,” says Tomer. “Hyperloop involves being suspended in the air or being underground in a tunnel and moving at hundreds of miles per hour in a completely new, unproved technology. I’m no behavioral economist but in terms of consumer perception of fear, it is driverless cars on overdrive.”

Expensive Manufacturing Costs

Passengers are not the only ones here who are fearful. Investors are too, because of the million dollar cost.  Back in 2013, Musk put the cost of his original “Hyperloop Alpha” plan at $6bn. The price tag has multiplies many times since then, however with Musk’s newer focus on an underground hyperloop.

The 2.5 mile LA subway extension that is currently under construction, will cost around $1bn per mile, while the hyperloop that would cover large distances might cost way more.

Musk believes he can cut the cost of tunneling tenfold by building narrow tunnels having diameter as small as 12ft, increasing the power of his tunneling machines and designing them to tunnel and strengthen the walls simultaneously.

Civil engineers assume Musk’s ambitious estimates to be unrealistic. One of them told Weird magazine that he placed them in the” bullshit category”.

Narrower tunnels means less passengers or capsules running close together giving rise to more perceptions.

“If they make the tunnels cheaper by making them smaller, then you’re restricting capacity,” said Professor Bailey. “If you run them very frequently, you have greater safety concerns about what happens if something goes wrong and shuts down.”

Everybody is having different opinions regarding the hyperloop as they have don’t have clear information about the project. The only point clear here is that it’s a futuristic vehicle that is ‘not’ coming soon.

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