Hyperloop hype: Visions of a 'vomit-free' supersonic future
Shervin Pishevar and Josh Giegel of Hyperloop One have an answer for everything and an unswerving belief they'll make this thing happen. We can't wait to see the tech.
Katie CollinsSenior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Hyperloop One co-founders Shervin Pishevar and Josh Giegel are promising the Earth -- or at the very least they are promising to bring everyplace on the Earth to your doorstep.
In a presentation at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon last week, the two entrepreneurs showed concept videos of their futuristic transportation system and elaborated on their plans. They hope to assemble a hyperloop first in the United Arab Emirates, following a feasibility study announced there last week.
The videos depict autonomous pods that come and pick you up wherever you are, pack themselves into a hyperloop tube, whisk you through a tunnel and deliver you to your destination at the far end. The journey was shown in the context of a planned 12-minute journey between Dubai and Abu Dhabi (a trip by bus would take two and a half hours).
The company is keen to show the public that it's no longer a "train in a tube company" and is instead "an autonomous transportation company," Giegel said.
Hyperloop One is one of two companies trying to bring to life the tubular transportation system outlined by Elon Musk in a paper published in 2013. The technology promises to revolutionize how we travel through a system that is theoretically cheaper, greener and faster. As with many new technologies, it's had more than its fair share of hype ahead of any real deployment. Pishevar and Giegel were happy to keep the interest level bubbling up.
Hyperloop One has built a test track in the Nevada desert, and in May it demonstrated its progress to journalists with an open-air propulsion test in which a sled reached 116 mph. The goal is for hyperloop to eventually reach speeds of about about 700 mph -- roughly the speed of sound -- and the company is discussing multiple possibilities for building the system across Europe, the Middle East and the US.
There is, however, plenty of skepticism from engineers and experts about whether building a hyperloop is actually feasible. The test track in Nevada showed a sleigh traveling at a fraction of a speed the hyperloop is expected to eventually achieve. There's no good answer yet on how to stop -- kind of a big problem.
The company also did not address the many other challenges -- how to make the system autonomous, for example -- that Hyperloop One is promising to solve.
You can't spell Hyperloop without hype
But Pishevar and Giegel are hyper-confident about every aspect of executing the project and about its effect on society and the world.
"It frees you from time and space," Pishevar said. "You could redesign cities not around cars anymore but around people, cities that are green and clean. The idea is that we can live and work anywhere."
"It's a smooth experience that feels like an elevator ride," said Giegel, when asked about the travel sickness. "This is grandma-friendly, kid-friendly and vomit-free."
This won't just be for the 1 percenters, either. "It's definitely going to be for Joe Everyman type of travel," Giegel said. It's not clear how getting the cost that low will be possible, particularly given Pishevar's assertion that once hyperloop is on the scene, "taking a plane will seem like riding a horse to get somewhere."
It seems that for Pishevar and Giegel, no single problem is insurmountable and no obstacle truly stands in the way of getting this thing off the ground. Not cost, not regulation, not effects on the human body and certainly not engineering underlying technology.
Hyperloop One now has over 200 employees in various locations across the US and has raised over $160 million in funding. The videos conjure up an awe-inspiring, utopian vision of the future that earned Pishevar and Giegel an arena's worth of applause in Lisbon.
On paper and on video there's nothing Pishevar and Giegel can't achieve. Such optimism is infectious and it certainly got the Web Summit audience's attention. But enough with the hype. The world has been promised a glossy, hyperloop-enabled future. It's time to deliver.