Strangely enough Elon Musk’s most disruptive idea yet, might be his most underestimated and misunderstood notion. The idea is the Hyperloop, a super-fast transportation system that operates inside a tube.
The Hyperloop is highly disruptive because it would greatly reduce travel times, if it works as advertised. A video released by Hyperloop One; a unicorn pushing the technology, claims a Hyperloop pod would travel between the United Arab Emirates cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in just 12 minutes.
The 159.4 kilometer trip currently takes around two hours by car. The same video claims that Hyperloop would reduce travel time between Dubai and Doha in Bahrain from seven hours to 23 minutes. The distance between those cities is 379 kilometers.
A trip between Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh which now takes around 10 hours by car or one hour and 45 minutes by plane would take 48 minutes by Hyperloop. The distance between Dubai and Riyadh is nearly 1,000 kilometers (975.24) to be exact.
The Annihilation of Distance
If these claims are true, and we have no way of knowing because an actual Hyperloop has not been tested; the technology would totally disrupt transportation. The disruption would rival that created by the advent of the automobile in the 20th Century or railroads in the 19th Century.
An obvious effect of Hyperloop would be to make it possible for people to commute across an entire country or large areas of one. An American would be able to live in Buffalo; or Roanoke, Virginia, and commute to New York City as easily as a Brooklynite commutes to Manhattan on a daily basis. An Englishman would be able to live in Manchester and commute to London on a daily basis.
Such annihilation of distance would totally transform countries, cities, communities and regions. New lifestyles would be possible for example, construction workers or other professionals that would be able to work anywhere in a nation and still sleep at home every night.
Whole industries including domestic airlines and traditional railroads would disappear. Driving would be greatly reduced, and long-distance drives might become a thing of the past.
Were it to be applied to freight, which is Hyperloop One’s plan, the technology would transform commerce. It would be possible to ship a package in New York at nine a.m. and have it delivered in Chicago shortly after lunch time.
Many areas of the economy from the oil industry; Hyperloop runs on electricity, to real estate would be affected by the technology. An obvious effect of Hyperloop might be to crash real estate values in some areas such as Brooklyn. Why would anybody pay a fortune to live in Brooklyn; when there are dozens of historic cities throughout the Northeastern United States that are far cheaper and filled with historic buildings?
The only thing that makes Brooklyn a more desirable place to live than Rochester, or Scranton, is its’ proximity to Manhattan. Hookup a transportation system that makes traveling between Manhattan and Reading, Pennsylvania, as easy as taking the subway between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the price of real estate in Williamsburg will plummet.
So what is Hyperloop Anyway?
The Hyperloop is simply a long tube similar to a pipeline from which most air has been removed. This reduces wind resistance and greatly increases speed.
That enables a pod shaped object to be pushed through at high speeds by a combination of electric motors and levitation. Weather cannot interfere with the system because it is inside a tube. Since the tube would probably be elevated, it would not be affected by road traffic the way some trains are.
The concept is scientifically feasible and hardly new. Such transportation systems have been a stock plot in science fiction for generations. It is possible now because some of the recent advances in engineering and computer assisted design.
Despite its’ disruptive nature, the Hyperloop has been ignored, large because Musk’s involvement is somewhat peripheral. He is not involved with Hyperloop One, but is building a test track for the technology at his SpaceX rocket factory in Hawthorne, California.
We need to watch Hyperloop carefully because two events are about to propel it into the news. Hyperloop One is working closely with the government of the United Arab Emirates to develop a system. On November 8; the same day as the American presidential election, Hyperloop One announced that it would build the first commercial Hyperloop system in partnership with the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority.
Musk himself is planning to test Hyperloop pods designed by college students at Space X next year. Either of these events might prove Hyperloop is feasible. If it is every investor and observer needs to take stock of this highly disruptive technology.
The Company that Might Bring Hyperloop to Life
Hyperloop One in particular bears watching because it has a serious CEO in the form of former Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CISCO) President Rob Lloyd. Lloyd, who helped create Cisco’s networks has claimed the first Hyperloop could be up and running by 2020. It also attracted serious corporate partners such as the engineering company AECOM (NYSE: ACM) and the French and German national railroads.
The company has also proven very adept at raising money raking in $50 million in venture capital in Fall 2016, and making plans to raise $160 million more. It’s also put out some pretty serious estimates of Hyperloop’s cost around $121 million a mile (around $75 million a kilometer) to build. The company’s cofounder and President Shervin Pishevar is a well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist known for his investment in Uber.
Hyperloop One is also building a test track for the system in North Las Vegas, Nevada. The first Hyperloop Tubes are under construction now, even though no pods or trains are running through them. If the company starts operating Hyperloop that might cause the technology to take off.
A profoundly disruptive technology might be about to become reality and nobody seems to be paying attention. The only major leader that seems to have shown an interest in Hyperloop is Vladimir Putin, no major U.S. politician has even mentioned it. Putin is pushing ambitious plans for a “Hyperloop Silk Road” across Russia that would connect China and Europe.
One has to wonder how the world is going to deal with something like Hyperloop. If the claims about are true, it might change everything and nobody will see it coming.