Modern aircraft use vacuum tubes

Shoot past the traffic in the Hyperloop

Are you bored of the daily commute to death? What do you think of us shooting you through a vacuum tube at 457 kilometers per hour? Then the commute to work would not only be shorter, it would also be much more exciting. Of course, we don't know how you drive a car at the moment.

We're talking about hyperloops. The state-of-the-art mobility concept: capsules slide on air cushions through a vacuum tube and reach speeds of up to 1200 km / h.

Proponents argue that the concept should be more environmentally friendly than planes and at the same time faster than trains. And safer and cheaper than both. But there are still some unanswered questions. Let's take a closer look at that.

The “Hyperloop” does not designate a product, a company, or a brand - but a technology that numerous companies are working on in order to get it ready for the market.

Hyperloops: tubes all over the world

The idea for the Hyperloop comes from Elon Musk. He made the concept available to the public in 2013 - he doesn't have time for it himself. Musk called the Hyperloop a “mix of a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table”.

Since then, numerous companies have set about turning the idea into reality. And they have made progress along the way.

The actors behind the hyperloop

Virgin Hyperloop One: The American company will set up a 35-kilometer test track in the Arabian desert with Saudi Arabia - a record. Virgin has been operating a 500-meter test track in the desert of the US state of Nevada since 2017. Commercial operations are scheduled to start in the United Arab Emirates in 2020 - an ambitious goal.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT): Virgin's biggest competition, also from the USA, is globally active: There are, for example, cooperation agreements with South Korea, the Czech Republic, Indonesia and the Ukraine. HTT has built a 320 meter long test track in Toulouse, France. The first tests with passengers are planned for the coming year. In a joint venture with the Port of Hamburg, a test track for the transport of containers is to be built by 2021.

University of Applied Sciences Emden / Leer: The university is planning a research center in Lower Saxony, Germany - and wants to convert the existing Transrapid line in the region for this.

Hardt Hyperloop: The Dutch company has completed a fully functional test track over 30 meters in Delft. However, Hardt had to drop the ambitious goal of connecting Amsterdam and Paris by 2021.

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB): The SBB is planning a three-kilometer test track in the canton of Valais.

The Boring Company: Elon Musk decided at the end of 2017 to get involved in the Hyperloop construction. For the so far vague plans he wants to use his tunnel boring company The Boring Company.

The very first concepts comparable to Hyperloops were proposed as early as the late 19th century by the British engineer Isambard Brunei.

Why you should be shot through a tube

Hyperloops allow rapid speeds. Elon Musk regularly organizes Hyperloop competitions, the winner for years: a team from the Technical University of Munich. In 2018, the students achieved a speed of 467 km / h. Theoretically, up to 1,200 km / h should be possible.

Commercial aircraft travel at an average of around 800 km / h. It's not just their potential speed that speaks for Hyperloops: Since the capsule races through a vacuum tube on air cushions, air resistance and friction are almost eliminated. This means that fewer costs are incurred during operation.

Since the Hyperloop is powered by magnets and electrically operated compressors, it does not need gasoline or kerosene - electricity to run the route, but it does. The US Department of Transportation estimates that short-haul hyperloops would be six times more energy efficient than airplanes - and three times more efficient than high-tech trains. A Hamburg study calculated the effect of a 300-kilometer hyperloop for freight in northern Germany. The project would generate an annual equivalent of € 900 million by reducing air pollution, accidents and congestion.

Math is difficult in a vacuum

For a Hyperloop project that is to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, Musk calculates a ticket price of 20 dollars, the equivalent of 18 euros, and capsules that leave every 30 seconds.

But some experts, above all economists, doubt the profitability of the concept. While Musk is calculating construction costs of up to seven billion dollars for the Los Angeles-San Francisco route described above, the equivalent of 6.40 billion euros, they reckon with up to 100 billion dollars, the equivalent of 91 billion euros. Then $ 20 tickets would be virtually impossible.

Hype or Hyperloop?

The Hyperloop companies don't skimp on superlatives when describing their product. The Hyperloop could have as significant an impact on society as the railroad once did, according to the head of marketing at Virgin Hyperloop One. Doesn't help, however: For the time being, you will have to make do with your usual commute. It is still unclear whether hyperloops will make it into reality. Lengthy approval processes and high costs could stifle entrepreneurial enthusiasm.