The Hyperloop might be the brainchild of billionaire inventor Elon Musk, but if it is to become a reality it will be one of two other companies that first brings the futuristic transportation system to the world, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The idea of the Hyperloop was first introduced by Musk in 2013 as a series of low-pressure tubes hundreds of miles long in which levitating capsules ferry passengers back and forth inside. If you remember what those old capsules looked like at your bank drive-thru, where you slotted your deposit slips into a pneumatic tube system to get to the teller inside, you’ll have a rough concept of how a Hyperloop works. Musk’s ultimate goal is to build a 400-mile-long Hyperloop between San Francisco and Los Angeles, which will transport commuters in just 35 minutes.
While most people were skeptical of the practical or economic feasibility of Musk’s Hyperloop, two companies got to work on trying to create it right away, says the Journal. Hyperloop Technologies and rival Hyperloop Transportation Technologies are both vying to build the world’s first Hyperloops by 2020 with one building a test track in Las Vegas and one hoping to have a mini five-mile Hyperloop up and running in California by 2020.
However, whichever of these companies is first to build the first full-scale commuter Hyperloop, it may not work exactly as Musk had intended. Musk envisioned the capsules in a Hyperloop flowing in the tube on a bed of pressurized air—much like a puck does on an air hockey table. Both companies, however, are leaning towards using magnets to levitate the capsules instead—much like how maglev trains work now.
Another piece of disheartening news for Hyperloop purists and junkies is that both companies says the world’s first true, large-scale commuter Hyperloop will probably not be built in California, or even the United States. Due to the government support that is required and generally less bureaucracy, Hyperloop Technologies says it believe the first Hyperloop will probably be built in either the United Kingdom or from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, while Hyperloop Transportation Technologies says it envisions the first Hyperloop will probably be built “in Asia or the Middle East, where transportation needs are more pressing and there is less bureaucracy,” notes the Journal.
And even if Hyperloops are completed in these locations, it should be noted that they might not be built for a while. There is still much to work out with Hyperloop technology, no matter if it’s of the pressurized air or magnet variety—and doing so can take years, even decades. The maglev train, the Journal adds, was first demonstrated in 1971, but due to cost and engineering complexity it wasn’t until 2004 that the first large scale maglev transportation system was built.