Is vacuum the key component to futuristic, high-speed, low energy land travel?

The much vaunted Hyperloop has a number of companies driving innovation and prototypes to build pods designed to travel in a vacuum using magnetic levitation at superfast speeds.

One contender is Elon Musk. In 2015 he launched a competition for organisations to develop a feasible version.

Virgin’s Hyperloop One was the first team to test a working prototype that reached 70mph in 5.3 seconds in its Nevada desert test in May 2017. On November 8, 2020, its XP-2 two seater Test Vehicle Experimental-Pod-2, built to demonstrate critical safety subsystems, allowed 4 passengers to safely travel in a hyperloop environment. It travelled at 48 m/s with air pressure within the tube of 100 Pascal.

Virgin Hyperloop’s production vehicle, however, will look radically different and seat up to 28 passengers.

Hardt Hyperloop also successfully completed two years of feasibility tests in Europe.

Propelled through a vacuum at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour, hyperloops could cut the 424 mile, 4.5 hour rail journey from London to Edinburgh, down to just 50 minutes.

Hyperloop systems also promise low implementation costs compared to other high-speed transportation methods. As civil infrastructure projects covering long distances, there will be segments that are above ground, at ground level , and below ground, to meet local conditions.

HyperloopTT say they will reduce the environmental cost of a large-scale infrastructure project by integrating solar panels and other renewable energy sources to create a net energy positive system, that aims to generate more energy than it uses. The harnessing of renewable energy also lowers operational costs. The system operates in a low-pressure, fully enclosed environment, eliminating traditional hazards from weather and traffic crossings, significantly improving efficiency and reliability.

HyperloopTT has also taken a step towards reality with a digital signaling and traffic management system, co-developed with Hitachi Rail.

In June 2022, Hitachi Rail and HyperloopTT achieved a milestone towards the commercial running of the innovative system – that will be able to run at speeds of up to 1,200km/h – with the completion of proof of concept for a cloud-based ERTMS signaling system for HyperloopTT’s capsules.

Working from Hitachi Rail’s site in Naples, Italy, the partnership successfully created a digital simulator that allows for the integrated testing of the traffic management, the signaling and some of the physical safety requirements of the hyperloop system – and is now developing an interface with HTT’s simulators for functional integration.

By replacing the capabilities of complex physical equipment with cloud-based software, the solution offers greater reliability, flexibility in deployment, cuts maintenance costs and is more sustainable. The simulator can also help to make HyperloopTT more efficient by automating repetitive tasks and detecting and managing potential disruptions, instead of reacting to events as they occur.

Many countries and continents are now supporting hyperloop design exploration and feasibility studies. The goal is much faster travel for less energy and a lower price, compared to existing modes of transportation. And no doubt, any hyperloop solution will demand intelligent systems and also be stuffed full of semiconductors.

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