The first full-scale physical Hyperloop prototype being built by Virgin Hyperloop One and the Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai is obviously a massive engineering challenge. But with no windows, it’s also a design problem with no easy solution–one that BMW Designworks is working to solve with its interior design for the prototype.
From a design perspective, putting windows inside a Hyperloop pod doesn’t make much sense. Imagine moving through a sealed near-vacuum at 671 miles per hour and looking out the window at the tube’s completely opaque walls. No matter how many purple neon lights you decorate the tube with, the feeling of claustrophobia inside that electromagnetically propelled bullet combined with the high-speed stroboscopic effect would drive me nuts.
This limitation–and the fact that passengers have to be seated at all times–create what BMW Designworks calls “a very restrictive environment.” Indeed, the idea of blindly hurtling through space in an aluminum and carbon fiber coffin sounds quite restrictive, to put it mildly.
The company wanted to transform those restrictions into a “personal and uplifting sensory experience that can be both memorable and enjoyable” in its design for the first-class cabins. Its design features details like a multidirectional and personally controlled light system. Sitting on comfy adjustable leather seats, passengers will use a touch screen to change the system’s brightness and color, “shifting the light from blue to pink to set the mood.” The seats will also have an integrated heating and cooling system and personalized entertainment screen units. The floor also includes mood lighting elements that double as wayfinding to guide passengers to . . . places (the press release doesn’t mention where, perhaps because there’s nowhere to go inside the tiny cabin). The design also includes traditional Arabic patterns to reflect Dubai’s local culture.
It all looks very sleek, but can custom lighting and touch screens make passengers forget about the so-called “restrictive environment” during the 12 minutes it takes to go from Dubai to Abu Dhabi? Maybe, but I doubt it will be distracting after the first few minutes. It all seems like a version of a first-class airline cabin–without a view. On the other hand, people get so lost inside their own tiny screens while traveling today that perhaps it doesn’t matter. Maybe the key to making the Hyperloop’s rider experience less restrictive is adding a ultra-fast Wi-Fi network in every capsule and make those seats as comfy as possible. Throw in some free tequila, and we’re in business.
Right now, Virgin Hyperloop One is “in talks” with the Dubai authorities to move into the next phase of further developing the design–so we’ll have to wait for real passengers’ reactions.