Since its first demonstration last year of the hyperloop technology that could one day propel travelers in underground pods at jet-like speeds, the startup Hyperloop One has upgraded its test track in the Nevada desert to make its case for what it hopes will be the future of intercity transportation worldwide.
Hyperloop One put the finishing touches on its 1,640-foot testing tube in North Las Vegas this week. Inside the tube, pods filled with passengers and cargo will magnetically levitate and accelerate via electric propulsion to speeds approaching those of a commercial airliner. Such high speeds are attainable because of the tube's low atmospheric pressure, which contributes to reduced aerodynamic drag.
The company plans to have a team of 500 engineers, fabricators, scientists, and other employees working on its technology by the end of the year. That's a big increase from last year, when the company had fewer than 100 engineers, many of them ex-NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees based at the company's headquarters in California.
Last May, those engineers demonstrated their propulsion technology in front of hundreds of journalists. A small white sled accelerated to more than 100 miles an hour over a straight track of a few hundred meters, and the entire test lasted less than five seconds. One of the ex-JPL engineers, Cassandra Mercury, said at the time that the company was looking forward to testing the completed design.
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"We're going to have it levitating, in a tube, with a pod, at vacuum," she told PCMag. "That's why they're calling it the Kitty Hawk moment." With the tube now completed, those tests can begin, although the company did not offer a timeframe.
In addition to overcoming technological hurdles, the company has also faced legal ones: co-founder and CTO Brogan BamBrogan, along with other former employees, sued the company last summer for wrongful termination, alleging, among other things, that they were forced out for speaking to investors about cultural issues within the futuristic firm.
Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd said in a statement on Wednesday that the technology will "transform transportation as we know it." He is currently promoting the hyperloop as a feasible alternative to driving or flying between cities in the same region, such as Los Angeles to San Diego, Miami to Orlando, and Seattle to Portland.