Hyperloop One succeeds in executing technology’s first-ever autonomous test run

A Los Angeles-based startup that aims to make Elon Musk’s vacuum-based mass transit dream a reality has completed the first-ever autonomous test run of a hyperloop system.

This week Hyperloop One announced the successful completion of what it called “phase two” – running a hyperloop pod at 310 km/h across nearly the full distance of its 500-metre “DevLoop” track in the Nevada desert.

By contrast, the company’s first-generation pod accelerated for 300 meters at 111 km/h.

Hyperloop One executive chair and co-founder Shervin Pishevar called the test “the dawn of a new era of transportation,” while CEO Rob Lloyd said the test signalled the company’s readiness to begin discussions with partners, customers, and governments around the world about the technology’s potential commercial use.

“We’ve proven that our technology works,” Lloyd said in an Aug. 2 statement. “We’re excited about the prospects and the reception we’ve received from governments around the world to help solve their mass transportation and infrastructure challenges.”

As noted by The Verge’s Russell Brandom, though Hyperloop One’s achievement is considerable – “when Elon Musk first announced his plans, few observers would have predicted that a workable prototype would emerge within four years,” he wrote – compromises were made to Musk’s original vision.

For example, Musk (who is not involved with Hyperloop One) initially envisioned the Hyperloop travelling between approximately 1125 and 1220 km/h – four times the test unit’s speed (though for comparison, Brandom notes, Japan’s bullet train regularly hits speeds of 310 km/h, and maglev tests have hit 560).

Musk’s initial spec was also self-powered – a literal loop that counted on a constant high-speed vacuum blowing in a single direction to help pods speed up – while Hyperloop One’s early layouts indicate branching routes.

It’s unlikely such changes could have been avoided, Brandom notes, since any engineering project requires compromise, and Hyperloop One is sure to continue pushing for higher speeds.

TransPod CEO Sebastien Gendron, whose Toronto-based startup harbours ambitions of developing a hyperloop corridor across southern Ontario, said it was great to see tests like Hyperloop One’s proving the technology’s value.

However, he gently chided his American counterpart for the compromises it made.

“Here in Canada, TransPod is developing the technology from the ground up, and instead of building initial concepts, we’re focusing our energy on building a full-scale model from the start,” he told ITBusiness.ca in an email.

“Since we released our cost study last month, we’ve been approached by a number of organizations interested in investing,” he wrote. “You may be able to ride a TransPod hyperloop sooner than you think.”

In its own estimates, TransPod has predicted that its vehicles would exceed speeds of 1000 km/h – four times that of a high-speed rail line – and would cost 50 per cent less to install too.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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