The Hyperloop, detailed by the SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO in a 57-page alpha white paper in August 2013, is a transportation network of above-ground tubes that would span hundreds of miles. Thanks to extremely low air pressure inside those tubes, capsules filled with people zip through them at near supersonic speeds.
The idea is to build a five-mile track in Quay Valley, a planned community (itself a grandiose idea) that will be built from scratch on 7,500 acres of land around Interstate 5, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Construction of the hyperloop will be paid for with $100 million Hyperloop Transportation Technologies expects to raise through a direct public offering in the third quarter of this year.
They’re serious about this, too. It’s not a proof of concept, or a scale model. It’s the real deal. “It’s not a test track,” CEO Dirk Ahlborn says, even if five miles is well short of the 400-mile stretch of tubes Musk envisions carrying people between northern and southern California in half an hour. Anyone can buy a ticket and climb aboard, but they won’t see anything approaching 800 mph. Getting up to that mark requires about 100 miles of track, Ahlborn says, and “speed is not really what we want to test here.”
Instead, this first prototype will test and tweak practical elements like station setup, boarding procedures, and pod design. “This is a very natural step,” Ahlborn says, on the way to building a longer track that allows for higher speeds and testing freight shipping. It’s also a way to prove that yes, this thing can be built.
Those designs were put together by a group of nearly 200 engineers all over the country who spend their free time spitballing ideas in exchange for stock options, and have day jobs at places like Boeing, NASA, Yahoo!, and Airbus. They and a group of 25 students at UCLA’s graduate architecture program are working on a wide array of issues, including route planning, capsule design, and cost analysis.
The partnership with Quay Valley makes sense for both parties. It’s a chunk of private land where Ahlborn doesn’t have to grapple with the right-of-way issues that have plagued California’s high-speed rail project. Quay Hays has been trying to build his housing and commercial development project for nearly a decade (the 2008 recession put the plan on hold). The Hyperloop fits with his vision of a place where cars take a back seat to non-polluting public transit systems (Ahlborn says the track and station will run as least partly on solar power).
For Quay, it doubles as advertising: The chance to ride in the world’s first Hyperloop is a great reason for people driving down I-5 to take their bathroom break in the settlement he’s evangelizing, take a look around, maybe buy a house.