Space & Innovation

Two Hyperloop Companies On Track For Breakthroughs

Competing Hyperloop companies move forward in the quest to make this futuristic transportation system real.

<p>Hyperloop One</p>

The competition to build a working Hyperloop system is heating up faster than a giant metal tube in the summertime.

In what some are calling the "Hyperloop war," two startups are each vying for a place in history. Their latest announcements this week hint at two different approaches.

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In case you haven't been swept up in Hyperloop mania yet, it's a futuristic high-speed transport system that tech mogul Elon Musk first described three years ago. After his white paper came out, he challenged innovators worldwide to actually build it. Separate startups Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) and Hyperloop Technologies answered the call.

Last night, Hyperloop Technologies hosted a press event in Nevada, which promised a demonstration of their tech at a test site outside Las Vegas. They announced that they were changing their name to Hyperloop One and unveiled a global challenge to host the first Hyperloop networks. Earlier this year they debuted enormous carbon steel tubes for a test track under construction in the desert.

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The day before, HTT made their own announcement. The company said it had "exclusively licensed" passive magnetic levitation technology from Lawrence Livermore National Labs that promises to make their system cheaper and safer to construct than existing active magnetic levitation systems like MagLev. The HTT track will be made out of aluminum, and most power for the motor will be regenerated when the pods brake, CNBC reported.

HTT has licensed passive magnetic levitation technology from Lawrence Livermore National Labs. | HTT

Details about both startups' systems - the exact materials in particular - are scarce, though.

The Hyperloop concept has captivated me and a lot of other people who just want to freaking get there already. From Elon Musk's white paper three years ago through now, I've been unabashedly optimistic about this insane plan. But the challenges are enormous, and deserve mentioning.

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California-based engineer Kristen Ray offered a thoughtful critique on Quora in 2013. She noted that thermal expansion was a problem because a 20-degree temperature change outside would cause an expansion of 600 feet across the proposed steel tube's length. Ray also questioned Musk's structural simulations for areas with seismic activity, and estimated that Hyperloop bearings alone could cost $4 billion.

Clearing those and other splintery hurdles is now in the hands of the competing startups, and student teams working on Hyperloop pod designs. Musk set this all in motion, but other smart people will have to get the system up to speed and over the finish line.

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Last December, Hyperloop Technologies CEO Rob Lloyd wrote that his team was working toward achieving a "Kitty Hawk moment" this year. I'm still holding out hope that Hyperloop does land in history up with the Wright brothers rather than down with the Hindenburg.