Hyperloop Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

Throughout history, the great engineering and technological feats of the world have been dismissed as “good in theory, not in reality”.

Thomas Edison was told that. So was Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, and the architects of the physical theories of the universe.

In 2014, hyperloop was an idea drawn on a whiteboard. A little over two years later, Virgin Hyperloop One built a full-scale prototype, fundamentally proving the transportation technology that will define the next century.

Imagine commuting between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh 48 minutes versus 8.5 hours, Riyadh to Jeddah in 76 minutes versus 10 hours, or Bahrain to Kuwait in 35 minutes versus more than five hours. The potential is enormous for the entire GCC region to lead the world in hyperloop manufacturing, investment, and quality job creation.

This kind of high-speed transit enables more powerful sharing of knowledge, labour and investment, provides an uplift in GDP, and positions the region as a manufacturing powerhouse at the forefront of a new hyperloop global supply chain. Hyperloop transport has the speed and agility to help create an on-demand economy by enabling hyper-efficient supply chains that increase capacity while decreasing congestion and delays.

It can benefit all stages of the value chain, with the most impact in manufacturing, inventory management, and distribution. Based on a third-party assessment, hyperloop could contribute $10 billion (Dh36.73 billion) annually in uplift to a single regional GDP through the supply chain manufacturing ecosystem.

Hyperloop can be a tremendous catalyst to enable all fourth-generation technologies. We believe Virgin Hyperloop One systems can create a multi-use, sustainable infrastructure backbone capable of supporting the global competitiveness of mega-regions, creating a vibrant society and thriving economy through visionary cities and high-tech clusters.

Agglomeration

Economists have a name for this kind of clustering of people and firms — agglomeration — and executing the concept enables better matching of supply chain players. Agglomeration can benefit regional economies through greater specialisation and competition. Studies have shown that density increases average labour productivity.

Hyperloop can drive that productivity even higher through “virtual density”, as in the kind that doesn’t generate the disadvantages of agglomeration such as traffic, pollution, and vehicle accidents. At the micro level, “virtual density” means people can access opportunities not just in one city, but in two or three, without having to uproot their life or family.

A hyperloop can enables 10 times the commute length in the same time.

So how does this technology work? Hyperloop is an entirely new mode and category of transportation that moves freight and people quickly, safely, on-demand and direct from origin to destination.

We’re building for fast, effortless journeys that expand possibilities. The top speed for a passenger or cargo vehicle will be 1,080 km/h. That is two to three times faster than high-speed rail and magnetic levitation trains, and 10-15 times faster than traditional rail.

Minimal energy

With hyperloop, vehicles, called pods, glide using no-contact electromagnetic levitation and are propelled to airline speeds using our proprietary linear electric motor. We’ve created a near-vacuum environment, reducing the air pressure down to the equivalent of 200,000 feet above sea level. The near vacuum lowers drag significantly, allowing for higher speeds to be achieved while using minimal energy.

Our system is 100 per cent electric and can draw power from any available energy source along the route. This gives us the potential to create a self-contained micro-grid, powering the system by solar panels that cover the tube.

Based on the physics of the system, our noise levels are lower than existing forms of transportation. This will minimise community disruption and expand potential for route placement.

Small pods with 16-28 passengers would provide direct-to-destination journeys at high frequency: over 12,000 passengers per hour each way. Our system can dynamically re-size the available fleet of pods to match demand.

In May 2017, we proved to the world this technology is a reality. We made history two minutes after midnight when we successful ran a test on our full-scale ‘DevLoop’ system, a 500-metre test track in the Nevada desert. It was the first functioning hyperloop system in the world, completed with power electronics, an autonomous pod, motor control and braking systems, levitation track, and guidance systems — and more than 1,100 tons of steel and concrete.

The vacuum pumps reduced the air in the tube to 100 pascals, 1/1000th atmospheric pressure. Virgin Hyperloop One achieved a test speed record of nearly 387km/h during our third phase of testing at DevLoop. We’ve since run hundreds of tests, reaching a level of technical maturity that is the result of rapid iteration and real-world testing.

Now, we are prepared to launch our first commercial systems and are working with governments to pursue this innovation opportunity.

When Hyperloop eventually becomes available as a totally new mode of transport, it will have an impact far greater than just going from A to B exceptionally quickly and efficiently. It will also unlock enormous economic, social, and human potential by fundamentally altering the barriers of distance and time.

And when it does, the “good in theory” will finally become a reality.

Josh Giegel is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Hyperloop One.