Tesla Motors and SpaceX creator Elon Musk has been talking for a while about a high-speed Hyperloop train that would theoretically move people through a narrow tube at a speed of 760 miles per hour, enough to get people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes.
And now this dream has taken another step toward reality, as Hyperloop Technologies announced today it has raised $80 million in funding. The company, which is changing its name to Hyperloop One, is currently building a test track for the technology outside of Las Vegas. It is conducting its first open-air test today as part of a plan to reinvent transportation.
Musk first released the concept for Hyperloop in 2013, when he talked about how it could transport people in “pods” through an 11-foot-diameter tube that was a near vacuum. The tube would be built in a way to remove its air pressure (to a level of 100 Pascals, or 1/1000th of the earth’s air pressure), allowing a train to speed through in a nearly frictionless manner. The train or pod could be elevated using magnetic levitation technology powered by an electric motor.
Musk made the vision available for other companies to make, and Hyperloop One is one of the companies that took up the challenge.
Last year, Musk said that his SpaceX company — which sends reusable rockets into space — would hold a competition and built a one-mile long test track to test ideas in the real world. Hyperloop Technologies and rival Hyperloop Transportation Technologies began to work on making Musk’s vision.
Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Technologies was founded in 2014 by Shervin Pishevar at Sherpa Ventures, and it was funded by Sherpa Ventures as well. Rob Lloyd, a former Cisco executive, was named CEO of Hyperloop Technologies in September 2015, and the company now has 150 employees. With the new funding, the company has raised more than $100 million.
“We all recognize we have something new in high-speed transportation,” Lloyd said in an interview with VentureBeat.
The company has proposed a Hyperloop Transportation System that will send trains with passenger pods at nearly the speed of sound, or 760 miles per hour, compared to 220 miles per hour for the Shanghai Maglev train or 374 miles per hour for the Japan Railways Maglev bullet train currently in testing. Lloyd said that faster speeds are possible, but the company doesn’t want to deal with the effect of shock waves from breaking the sound barrier. If a train has to deal with turns or sharp curves, it will slow down so it can reduce the gravity effects on passengers.
“The overwhelming response we’ve had already confirms what we’ve always known, that Hyperloop One is at the forefront of a movement to solve one of the planet’s most pressing problems,” said Hyperloop One cofounder and executive chairman Shervin Pishevar. “The brightest minds are coming together at the right time to eliminate the distances and borders that separate economies and cultures.”
Hyperloop One is starting a contest, the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, to determine what the best initial routes would be. Lloyd said that one possible route is a link between London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. The 50-mile loop could reduce travel time to a couple of minutes, as if you were traveling from one terminal to another. That could obviate the need for a $20 billion expansion of Heathrow, Lloyd said. Hyperloop One is engaged in studies to develop routes in Finland and Sweden for a loop that could connect Helsinki and Stockholm.
Brogan BamBrogan, Hyperloop One cofounder and chief technology officer, said in a statement, “Our growing team of incredible engineers is working at full-speed along a proven development process to design, analyze, build and test the hardware and software to make Hyperloop a reality. We are proud to show off our progress today and look forward to meeting more milestones on our way to debuting a full-scale system later this year. No one comes close to our progress in commercializing this revolutionary transportation system.”
If you also created a Hyperloop from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, that would be “a very successful route,” Lloyd said. You could also take millions of trucks off the highways if you transported cargo from shipping docks to transportation hubs using Hyperloop, he said.
Some proposed routes include San Francisco to Los Angeles, or Los Angeles to Las Vegas. But it would be a challenge to get property rights in densely occupied city centers. Something like Palmdale, California to Las Vegas might be more doable, Lloyd said. Cargo transport systems might also be more practical.
“The best routes around the world will evolve,” Lloyd said. “No one else is even close to us in building this at scale.”
The Hyperloop system is expected to be energy self-sufficient, powered by solar panels placed along the track. The pods will travel inside a climate-controlled tube that makes the system free from weather effects, while pylons are expected to reduce the threat from earthquakes. The construction costs are expected to be much lower than any existing proposed railway projects. As a result, Hyperloop transportation is expected to cost a lot less than you might expect.
“The State of Nevada prides itself on attracting innovative businesses and welcomes ideas that improve the way that people live, both locally and globally,” said Brian Sandoval, governor of Nevada, in a statement. “We believe that Hyperloop One will develop the next mode of transportation while also providing a significant revenue stream and job opportunities for Nevadans. This company will be an anchor at the Apex Industrial Park and I look forward to a successful partnership for years to come.”
Investors in Hyperloop Technologies’ latest round include new investors 137 Ventures, Partech Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Fast Digital, Western Technology Investment, SNCF, the French National Rail Company, and GE Ventures. Existing investors who also participated include Sherpa Ventures, EightVC, ZhenFund, and Caspian Venture Partners. Musk is not an investor, but he is aware of what the company is doing. Hyperloop Technologies acquired 137 acres in North Las Vegas where it intends to build a full-scale development loop to test the system. Today, it is doing a demo of the electric motor for the pods that operate inside the tube. By the end of 2016, the company hopes to have a full-scale Hyperloop prototype.
“We want to blow the world away with the fact that this is here today,” Lloyd said. “We will surprise the world with the fact that we are testing the technology today.”
Hyperloop One’s partners include Aecom, a Los Angeles construction services firm; Amberg Group, Swiss transportation infrastructure firm; Arup, a design firm; Bjarke Ingels Group/Big, an architecture firm in New York; Deutsche Bahn Engineering and Consulting, a consultancy for transportation in Berlin; KPMG, an auditing firm; and Systra, a Paris engineering consultancy.
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