Mumbai : Have you ever read a book set in the ‘distant future’ that was written in the past — say HG Wells’ The Sleeper Awakes (1910) — and marvelled at what people believed technology and progress would look like in the 2000s? What might they have thought of the Hyperloop?
The Hyperloop is an idea Elon Musk articulated in 2013, throwing open a challenge to engineers all over the world to make this ‘fifth mode of transport’ a reality. He described it as ‘Concorde-meets-rail gun-meets air hockey’, travel faster than the speed of sound. Musk’s SpaceX has a global Hyperloop competition, a second edition of which will be held in August 2017 (and has a team from BITS Pilani as one of the selected contenders).
The Hyperloop is being pitched as the future of travel; one that will not only cut down travel time, but also our reliance on conventional sources of energy. It has been conceptualised as enormous evacuated steel tubes connecting two locations, through which pods carrying passengers will travel at speeds of over 700 mph. Magnetic accelerators placed throughout the tubes help the pod move forward, while the low pressure in the tube itself would reduce resistance (allowing the pod to move at higher speeds).
The Hyperloop isn’t fully functional anywhere in the world yet, but India could be among the first countries to have a system up and running.
(This is of course, if all the reasons that have been put forward for why the Hyperloop will never work — not to mention its substantial costs — are overcome by designers and engineers.)
Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies are both wooing the Indian government to get permissions and funds to set up their systems here.
In February 2017, Hyperloop One asked Indians to choose their ‘favourite route’ among five proposed corridors. In its simulation, the company has claimed that the travel time from Mumbai to Delhi would be 80 minutes (a direct flight between the two cities currently takes about two hours), Mumbai to Chennai — around 60 minutes, Bengaluru to Thiruvananthapuram would take around 40 minutes. And the price of travelling on the Hyperloop would be substantially lower than an airplane ticket.
Hyperloop One is hoping to have a fully-operational system in India by 2021, and its business development head Naushad Oomer, told News 18 in an interview: “We are already in talks with the ministry of railways and NITI Aayog (among others). There is excitement and we are ready to showcase the proof of concept in the coming months.”
Like SpaceX, Hyperloop One also has a Global Challenge, and five Indian teams made it to the shortlist of 35 finalists (chosen from among 2,600 entries from 90 countries) this March. These include AECOM, LUX Hyperloop Network, the Indore-based Dinclix GroundWorks, Hyperloop India and Infi-Alpha.
Hyperloop India — on the shortlist for both the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, and the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition Weekend II — is one of the groups to watch out for. Starting off with a small group of students from BITS Pilani, the team has now expanded to include members from all over India. “The team draws majorly from educational institutes and we are mentored and research-led by faculties from BITS Pilani and Indian School of Business,” the ‘about us’ section on the Hyperloop India website states. “We are the only team of this scale representing India in putting forward a comprehensive commercial, transport, economic, and policy case for the country to host the Hyperloop.”
Meanwhile, Hyperloop One’s competitor, Hyperloop Travel Technologies reportedly had a round of pretty high-profile meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, transport minister Nitin Gadkari and railway minister Suresh Prabhu in March 2017. The US-based company was also in talks with five Indian states to build its high-speed travel network.
“We have five offers on the table from five chief ministers,” HTT’s chairman Bibop Gresta told PTI in an interview earlier this year. “We spoke to them and the one that will give us the land we will go and build. We have local partners and we are now raising $100 million and bringing another investment from abroad.”
Gresta also stressed on the huge environmental benefits of the Hyperloop in an interview with the Economic Times. “The Hyperloop will run on renewable energy. There will be solar panels on the top of the tube, wind turbines in the pylons. We will generate more energy than we need. It would be like having a power plant that also transports people,” he said.
As per HTT’s estimates, a single tube could carry 1.44 lakh passengers daily at 40-second intervals. The company estimates that ticket prices for a distance of 500 km will be around Rs 200.
The DeLorean Time Machine may not be a reality anytime soon, but Hyperloop travel in India could very well be. As Shervin Pishevar, executive chairman of Hyperloop One told PTI, “India is an extremely important geography for developing Hyperloop networks and re-imagining how cities and regions work.”