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All you wanted to know about hyperloop

ESWARKRISHNAN CHELLAM | Updated on January 17, 2018 Published on August 29, 2016

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As we furiously debate whether India can make a go of bullet trains, here’s an alternative, which could be faster and more efficient. We’re talking of hyperloop transportation. According to the top brass of Hyperloop Transportation Technology, transportation pods could shrink the travel time from Mumbai to Delhi to a cool 90 minutes.

This may be a reality if engineers are able to design, test, prototype and commercialise the concept of hyperloop, for which the theoretical design was mooted by maverick techno-entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2013.

What is it?

Star Trek fans must be familiar with the make-believe teleportation device —Transporter. While the transporter continues to be in its realms of fiction, a concept of ultra-high speed travel — Hyperloop — is under testing with prototype trials by a few firms. Hyperloop technology promises to move people and goods through low-pressure tubes far faster than commercial air travel, within earthly confines, of course.

In hyperloop transporation, custom-designed capsules or pods are expected to zip smoothly through continuous steel tubes which are held at partial vacuum. The pod which sandwiches the passenger compartment between an air compressor upfront and a battery compartment in the rear is supported by air caster skis at the bottom. The skis float on a thin layer of air provided under high pressure, eliminating rolling resistance and allowing for movement of the pods at high speeds. These capsules are expected to be driverless with estimated speeds of 1,000 km/h.

Linear induction motors that are placed along the tube control the speed of the pod. Electronically-assisted acceleration and braking determines the speed of the capsule.

Why is it important?

Developments in traditional high speed railway technology have not made much progress in recent years. From steam to diesel to electric, locomotives have come up against the physical constraints of weight and drag. Frictional losses too come into play when a vehicle relies on wheels. As speeds accelerate, mechanical wear and tear leads to high maintenance costs. Maglev (magnetic levitation), which was expected to provide a solution has not gained traction. High-power consumption, accidents and technical challenges have hampered its progress.

In Hyperloop, during the pod’s journey, an inlet fan and compressor push high pressure air from the nose to tail. This action and the partial vacuum which eliminates most of the drag, boosts the speed. Low power consumption and reliance on existing infrastructure after re-engineering, are big positives.

Why should I care?

Indian Railways, the largest network in Asia is a multi-gauge and multi-traction system with around 66,000 route kilometres. But it is severely capacity-constrained to meet burgeoning demand. While it operates around 12,000 trains carrying 2.3 crore passengers a day, the trains are snail-paced by global standards.

Even the country’s first bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is expected to clock a maximum speed of 350 km/h, while Hyperloop One has reported speeds of around 480 km/h in a four-second test conducted in May this year. Buoyed by its initial success, the start-up is proposing to build a factory north of Las Vegas.

The bottom line

Let’s hope hyperloop is not just hype and hoopla

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Published on August 29, 2016
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