Two innovations expected to become mainstream in the (very near) future have formed an unexpected union: hyperloop and autonomous vehicles. With the race toward the development of the perfect self-driving vehicle heating up, and the competition to create the most effective hyperloop transportation system also well under way, experts at Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One (H1) have envisioned a way to marry the two technologies.
In 2012, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested a hyperloop be built instead of a bullet train system from San Francisco to Los Angeles. While Tesla has yet to pick up this project themselves, Musk suggested others get started. H1 is one of many companies that took that challenge—having completed their first public test in 2016, with a full system test planned in early 2017.
Hyperloops consists of large travel tubes and pods for passengers. A near vacuum is maintained inside the tube in order to allow for less resistance and higher speeds. Magnets within the tube propel the pods to their destinations. Pods essentially float as they travel through the tube, which eliminates the need for wheels or tracks, and results in very high speed transport. At approximately 760 mph, a bit faster than the maximum speed on a standard commercial jet, this means the six hour drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles would decrease to a mere 30 minutes.
H1’s unique approach doesn’t limit hyperloop technologies to its own vehicles. They want to allow autonomous vehicles and hyperloops to communicate in order to ensure a seamless transfer from road to tube. The logistics of how they plan for this to work however, have yet to be disclosed. One can speculate that due to the fact that present-day autonomous vehicles may not conform to the aerodynamics necessary for tube travel, H1 could allow vehicles to drive into a pod and then enter the tube. Or maybe autonomous vehicles of the future will look very different to traditional cars today—eliminating this problem altogether.
A few hyperloop companies have stated that short passenger trips will become a reality sometime between 2018 and 2021. And by 2020, the number of autonomous vehicles on the road is expected exceed 10 million. These technologies are flourishing fast and quickly becoming a reality.
Unfortunately, one factor holding back hyperloop development at the moment is the exorbitant cost associated with building it. Hopefully the more commonplace it becomes, and more competitors entering the space, will make this more feasible, or allow for the development of more economical alternatives. Or maybe autonomous vehicle makers will collaborate in making this a reality. Hopefully it’s all not just a pipe dream.