Hyperloop One is working on a transportation technology that can make trains go as fast as 760 miles per hour. And today, the company is announcing that it has signed a deal with investment firm The Summa Group and the city of Moscow to explore building high-capacity passenger systems connected to Moscow’s transportation grid.

The agreement was signed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Hyperloop One now has feasibility studies underway in Finland and Sweden, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Dubai, the Port of Los Angeles, and the United Kingdom. Hyperloop One raised $80 million last month and ran a partial test of its system in Nevada.

“We are excited for the partnership between the Summa Group, the Russian Government, and Hyperloop One to construct a Hyperloop in Moscow,” said Shervin Pishevar, cofounder and executive chairman of Hyperloop One, in a statement. “Hyperloop can improve life dramatically for the 16 million people in the greater Moscow area, cutting their commute to a fraction of what it is today. Our longer term vision is to work with Russia to implement a transformative new Silk Road: a cargo Hyperloop that whisks freight containers from China to Europe in a day.”

The Russians appear to be big fans of the technology, which was conceived by Tesla founder Elon Musk. Musk did the initial research behind a high-speed Hyperloop train that would theoretically move people through a narrow tube at a speed of 760 miles per hour, fast enough to get people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes.

“The implementation of Hyperloop technology provides tremendous benefits to the Russian Federation in terms of the geopolitical development of the intracontinental transit potential and building of an economically attractive alternative to the existing global logistics flows,” said Ziyavudin Magomedov, owner of the Summa Group, in a statement. “In the long-term, Hyperloop could catalyze the development of regional economic integration, including the Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese initiative One Belt – One Road.”

The company also announced its judges for the Hyperloop Global Challenge, a first of its kind competition that will identify and select teams and locations with the best proposals to make Hyperloop a reality around the world. The challenge is asking people to come up with the best options for early Hyperloop One routes.

The judges include Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE Foundation; Bassam Mansour, advisor for the International Railway Industry; Clive Burrows, one of the world’s most-respected transport engineers; Alan Berger, professor of landscape architecture and Urban Design at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Ulla Tapaninen, senior advisor for economic development at the City of Helsinki, Finland. This international panel of judges will review the entries toward the end of 2016. A shortlist of projects will then be scrutinized in more detail, and the panel will help select the three winners to be announced in March 2017.

“We have assembled the best and brightest minds, bringing together the world leaders in their respective fields to judge the Hyperloop One Global Challenge,” said Rob Lloyd, CEO of Hyperloop One, in a statement. “This growing panel of world-class experts has the experience and ability to work with us to decide what could be the world’s first Hyperloop project.”

Hyperloop One ran a full-scale propulsion test in North Las Vegas in May. The deadline for entries for the contest is September 15, 2016.

As we noted earlier, 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 that removes 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.
Hyperloop One construction in Las Vegas.

Above: Hyperloop One construction in Las Vegas. Image Credit: Hyperloop One

Last year, Musk said that his SpaceX company — which sends reusable rockets into space — would hold a competition and build a one-mile long track to test ideas in the real world. Hyperloop One and rival Hyperloop Transportation Technologies began to work on realizing Musk’s vision.

Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One (previously called 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. The new funding takes the total raised to more than $100 million.

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.
Hyperloop One construction in Las Vegas

Above: Hyperloop One construction in Las Vegas

Image Credit: Joshua Caldwell of Cryptic Butterfly Photography

The Hyperloop system is expected to be energy self-sufficient, and will be powered by solar panels placed along the track. The pods will travel inside a climate-controlled tube that keeps 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 for any existing proposed railway projects. As a result, Hyperloop transportation is expected to cost a lot less than you might expect.

Investors in Hyperloop One’s 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, 8VC, 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.

Hyperloop One’s partners include Aecom, a Los Angeles construction services firm; Amberg Group, a Swiss transportation infrastructure firm; Arup, a design firm; Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), an architecture firm in New York; Deutsche Bahn Engineering & Consulting, a consultancy for transportation in Berlin; KPMG, an auditing firm; and Systra, a Paris engineering consultancy.

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