Ten major problems with which Hyperloop should become a reality (and how to solve them)


Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), a California-based company, has been preparing for the opening of future transportation vehicles in the United Arab Emirates following the launch of the first full Hyperloop measuring cap in Cádiz. A 140-mile pipeline will connect Abu Dhabi to Expo 2020, which will be held in Dubai. The journey will take only 12 minutes.

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We had the first true Hyperloop capsule and this is not what we expected

While driving from Málaga to Cádiz to present the first Hyperloop Capsule …

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Dirk Ahlborn went through Malaga to introduce Hyperloop on the S-Moving Smart Transport Forum. With its accentuated German accent and sockets of drawings, HTT's general manager gave us a relaxed interview that reveals some of the most widely spread myths about his project.

1. Speed ​​and pressure, two pillars Hyperloop

For the first time, when Elon Musk talked about Hyperloop, he presented him as a capsule traveling at a speed of sound with almost complete vacuum, but Hyperloop, proposed by HTT, is slower and travels through a low pressure pipe. At what speed and under what pressure conditions will it actually work?

Dirk Ahlborn, director of Hyperloop TT

Hyperloop always traveled in a low-pressure environment. When talking about a vacuum, we mean a low-pressure hose. Creating a perfect vacuum is very difficult. Even Ellon's proposal was about a low-pressure environment, but there was never a complete vacuum. Only those who have not read their research speak of a complete vacuum.

On the other hand, Hyperloop has always traveled under the speed of sound. The speed limit is given by the fact that if you go faster, you do not know what will happen inside the building. When you reach the speed of sound, there is a sonic explosion, there are vibrations … engineering becomes very complicated if superfluid comes into play. If you move, the air moves. But if you move to 1200 kilometers per hour, some parts go faster than air. You need to stay under the sound velocity just below it so that you do not have a controlled stream. Therefore, the capsule is always subsonic.

In other words: if you build a Hyperloop and travel at a speed of sound, it's difficult to build 10. If it gets super sound, the problem is 100,000. Engineering is much, much more complicated from the moment you talk about superfluids.

But even if it were subsonic, the acceleration and braking force would be very uncomfortable for those traveling inside the tube at this speed.

No. This can be adjusted. You do not need to be embarrassed. You can go slower. It may take a few minutes to reach the maximum speed of the capsule, but the experience of using and comforting passengers is one of our priorities.

And under what kind of pressure does the capsule work?

From 10 to 100 pascals, which is basically what is described in the Elon proposal. This will not always be the same, because each structure has air leakage and pressure loss, and the pumps maintain a level. That's why we are always working between 10 and 100 pascals, which is about 30 kilometers above sea level, as it is in space.

2. Air leakage, the problem of driving in the pipe

Since there is a large pressure difference between the interior and the exterior of Hyperloop, each gap in the tube would cause the air to quickly close the emptying of the void and possibly destroy everything in it. How did you deal with this problem?

There is always air leak. Of course, if there was an explosion or something really big (and I mean serious things, not a small hole, such as a surface that crashed into a tube and caused a lot of explosion), valves would be used to close the section in question and stop the system . Yes, in the part where the explosion happens, there will be a shock wave. But other areas will be closed and security measures will ensure that passengers are generally safe.

But would a sudden pressure wave would not push the capsules that would cause a catastrophic collision between them?

No, the distances are great. Even with a frequency between 40-second capsules, this type of speed will be miles away.

And what would be the ideal frequency for Hyperloop to avoid accident in case of emergency braking?

Existing technology allows a frequency of between 40 second capsules in other means of transport, so that technology is also being developed.

3. If Hyperloop is a plane that travels along the ground …

We talked about the gaps in the tube, but what about the capsule? Any damage to the Hyperloop capsule for any reason would expose passengers to a low-pressure environment, or would you die as if you were in the universe? Should we wear oxygen masks?

It's the same as in an airplane or a spaceship. The capsule is based on two layers. If something happens with a few layers, there is still one more layer. Here comes Vibranium, which detects the structural integrity of the capsule. If there is a problem, we will know and the capsule can be taken out of circulation. No cracks that can be shaped without knowing it. This is an important part of the system.

And what exactly is Vibranium, the material you patented for making capsules?

It's an intelligent composite material. It has pressure sensors and integrity of the structure. That's a big difference.

4. Thermal expansion, when heat threatens safety

Photo: Hyperloop TT

The second big question about Hyperloop is how it will react to the thermal expansion. The temperature of the environment varies throughout the year, and global warming has become more extreme. The increase in heat causes the Hyperloop tube to physically change its size, known as thermal expansion. The question is: does the hose expand and order in support of external pressure, without compromising the structural integrity and safety of passengers?

Not only this: the earth is moving, so the structure is alive. When designing a transport system such as Hyperloop, you must take this into account. But there is nothing new in this. Gas pipelines, for example, are already doing this. If they are well-designed (because, of course, there are a number of costs and standards), they have no problems and are talking about pipes that are hundreds or thousands of miles long. There are those that are known as expansion joints in order for the structure to expand.

And these joints are able to survive the earthquake?

This is something that you've been using antisystem support with pads. Within the pillars that hold the tube, you can integrate the same technologies that you would integrate in the building. Pipeline lines already support earthquakes of 8.0 on Richter scale. There are examples in the past in which these technologies worked, and we have come a long way.

5. Light Target for Terrorist Attacks

What about terrorism? Would not a tube become a terrorist target too easy with a deadly result for everyone inside?

If people want to do bad things, they will do it. There is always a danger of terrorism. But the damage that you can do, even if it is not so good to say, would be very small compared to what you can do in the subway or even the train. Hyperloop is not a plane, so you can not take it to the building. And, of course, it has security measures: there are cameras and surveillance. There are ways to protect the structure. But, once again, if someone wants to do something, as if by plane and crashing against the pipes or putting TNT under the pipe, of course, an accident can happen. But an attack on a target that is moving at almost the speed of sound is complicated: you do not know where it is. And the damage that would have been done would affect no more than one capsule or perhaps two, up to 80 people.

But if there was an explosion, would not spontaneous decompression destroy the whole infrastructure? It would be economically catastrophic for the project, even if it was not a victim.

Depending on where it is produced and how many capsules it is at this time. These departments would be closed. I mean, the pressure would be, but this wave would not necessarily destroy the entire system.

We cooperate with TÜV SÜD, one of the largest security institutes in the world, and also with München Re, which is the most important insurance company in the world. Munich Re analyzed everything we have designed and said that it can provide such a commercial system. Of course there are always risks, but those who want to make sensational videos are wrong.

When I heard: "Well, if you build it in Texas, note that we want to shoot things." If you shoot a tube, nothing happens. Even if you are shooting with a rocket launcher: nothing will happen because the construction is built to withstand this type of pressure.

6. How many pumps do you need to discharge this?

Many people think that it is impossible to extract air from a pipe that is large enough to be built by HTT. What types of pumps do you use? Where will the energy come for these pumps? How can it be sustainable?

In cooperation with Leybold we developed a vacuum system. We will lay 10 containers of bombs every ten kilometers, so we will have many bombs. Preserving the pressure will cost us 25 kW / h every 10 kilometers and give you the idea to have a price of $ 3 in the United States. Maintenance is not a problem, because after the air is exhausted, a pump is required to prevent leakage. Therefore, the pumps are switched on and off to maintain the vacuum.

People who talk about these things do not know what they say. In the first place, there is no complete vacuum device. That's a big difference. With a complete vacuum, it's a big problem, yes, but the Large Hadron Collider vacuum pump, which by the way makes Leybold, extracts 100 times more pressure than ours. People say Hyperloop will be too expensive, but in the last decade there has been a lot of development in pumping technologies. Previously, wet pumps were used that worked with water and oil. The ones we use are called dry vacuum pumps, do not include liquids and are much more effective, especially for this type of use. They are basically the same pumps that were used in the particle accelerator.

7. Earth morphology, the same problems as the train

Does the tube always traverse the surface?

It will depend on the way.

But doing so on the surface is much cheaper than it does underground.

Yes, but first you have to look where you want to go and what is the best way to get to it.

In a mountainous country like Spain, I think it will be underground.

No, what I think is that in some sections you will travel to the ground, and in others you will travel underground. It will not always be the same.

Is Hyperloop possible in a country with complex morphology of the terrain? That means Hyperloop is possible outside the Arizona desert? How much can you contact? Can you go up and down?

Hyperloop has two advantages: one is the speed and the other is the price. Although I can not go quickly, it's cheaper than everything else. Hyperloop's great opportunity is the fact that it can generate income with relatively low operating costs, even if it is slow. So if there is a mountain or curve, you only need to reduce the speed; You have the same problem with the high speed train. In the train, you should go as straight as possible to get as fast as possible. If you can not go straight, then you need to slow down. Especially when you leave the city: you need to slow down and speed up.

8. Will you leave Hyperloop on the outskirts of the city?

We are talking about cities. The train travels from the center of the city to the center of another city, but the construction of the infrastructure for Hyperloop in the city is complicated. Where will the capsule passengers leave? How will they get to the city?

Because it is built on pillars, Hyperloop can use existing infrastructure. We can go on the highway, follow the railway … We do not expect to build completely new stations. In fact, we have two models: one station Hyperloop and the other, integration into existing railway stations.

9. No public money is Hyperloop

I understand that Hyperloop will always depend on public money to be able to function. Otherwise, someone would have to pay the land to thousands of farmers whose land will be through the hose.

In general, we have the same problems as the highway or high-speed train. So, you usually work with governments and these governments are responsible for renting land. This is a problem that will always be there. In some countries it is more difficult than in other countries. It is easy in many countries because the government decides where it will be built, and that's all. In other countries, as in the United States, it is more complicated. Frankly, this is not our problem, but the problem of operating companies that will build Hyperloop.

10. Ticket price: how much will the future of the future cost?

You once said Hyperloop maps are free. How is this possible?

If you are thinking about the cost of the ticket, a hypothetical trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco would cost an average of $ 20 per person and that would be enough to achieve profitability in 12 years. But the ticket could be free if it changed its business model. The question is: Is there a way to create $ 20 per person from a person climbing to Hyperloop for half an hour?


In fact, you do not need to think about ads, such as banner ads that appear everywhere. In Hyperloop, you do not have to do it, so I can offer you services, I can sell items … We spend billions of dollars to get you to a place where you can spend your money. With this business model you are already in this place.

Like Ryanair.

Exactly I'm a big fan of Ryanair, but it's 20 years old. Now imagine the Ryanair model, adapted today, using new technologies and opening it to the ecosystem. What we built is more like the iPhone App Store, where people can offer their services. Maybe other companies can create something that you like. Maybe you can make your nails or book a massage. It is about creating a flexible environment that allows other companies to build on it.

And you can do this in a capsule that travels near the speed of sound.

You can not detect speed. Passengers feel like they are on a high-speed train. The only difference is the maximum speed. When it goes very straight, Hyperloop is much faster than the train.


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