Progress rarely moves in a straight line, but could it come in a round tube? Hyperloop One, a contender in the race to build the first tube system capable of propelling cylindrical pods to carry passengers as fast as 750 miles per hour, made the case for its technology today to an audience of roughly a hundred movers and shakers in Washington, D.C. After years of experimenting with the system in the Nevada desert, the company’s executives relied on old-fashioned airplane technology to make the trip to the nation’s capital to convince lawmakers that they represent the promise of the future.
“We’re just about to demonstrate the technology and we wanted people to start to think about what are we going to be doing after we demonstrate the technology,” CEO Rob Lloyd told Fast Company.
On Wednesday, Lloyd and cofounder and executive chairman Shervin Pishevar met with members of the the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. To make a pitch with bipartisan appeal, Lloyd cited the importance of American-made infrastructure, explaining that California-based Hyperloop One is preferable to high-speed rail (which requires investing in some foreign companies). “It is very refreshing to say, ‘Wait a minute, it would be great to have an industry that is American,'” he said.
It’s also an argument that might appeal to the White House. One of President Trump’s major promises was to create more jobs for average Americans. If the Hyperloop makes it way through all the inevitable regulatory hoops, the company will need a whole lot of workers to build its various systems of vacuum tubes.
The regulatory process is certain to be a challenge given Hyperloop’s ambitious timeline–Lloyd recently vowed to deliver a fully operational Hyperloop by 2020. He hopes to launch in three locations—including the U.S. Other contenders include the United Arab Emirates and Northern Europe. To that end, in November the company agreed to a government-funded feasibility study across Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, as part of its global challenge contest, thousands of teams from around the world competed to be a part of the world’s first full-scale test of the technology, with routes in both Poland and Finland among the semi-finalists selected. Finalists will be chosen in May.
Some see a lack of regulation around the Hyperloop as one of the main barriers to getting the technology adopted in the U.S. “We don’t have a process for something like this. That is the problem,” said former Secretary of the Department of Transportation Anthony Foxx at Hyperloop One’s Vision for American event.
Foxx has been a proponent of new technology like the Hyperloop, but has also acknowledged the difficulty of creating an entirely new legal framework for such a novel technology. “The Federal Railroad Administration’s current regulations would be like putting a square peg in a round hole for Hyperloop,” he said on Recode’s Decode podcast in February. “The technology, the science behind it, is very sound, but it’s another one of those examples of, the technology may be there before the government is.” He added that he wasn’t sure that the first Hyperloop would necessarily be in the U.S.
Lloyd thinks states could play a role in helping to get the U.S. Department of Transportation on board. “I do believe if some state signs up and says, ‘Hey, we’re ready to rock and roll on this and give these guys full support,’ I believe the federal DOT will find that very interesting.”
At the event in D.C., the company also announced that its test track in Nevada is ready for a full systems test, which it promises is coming in the next couple of months. Last year, Hyperloop One hosted a test of its propulsion system at its Nevada facility and promised a full-systems test by the end of 2016. But in an interview with The Verge, senior vice president of global operation Nick Earle, said they wanted to wait for the political situation to “settle down” before launching.
Last summer, Hyperloop One was also embroiled in a nasty lawsuit and countersuit between founding members of the company over harassment allegations among other issues. The suit was settled in November.