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​Superfast hyperloop transportation could arrive in about five years, CEO says

Hyperloop Technologies, one company pursuing a futuristic transportation idea, believes it'll build three demonstration lines early next decade.

Hyperloop Technologies CEO Rob Lloyd speaks at Web Summit 2015.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

DUBLIN -- If you want to ride on a hyperloop, the futuristic transportation mode envisioned by Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, you could get your chance in about five years.

Musk published the idea, but a company called Hyperloop Technologies is among those trying to commercialize it. The Los Angeles-based firm's plans include three demonstration projects it'll begin in 2017 and bring "close to completion by 2020," CEO Rob Lloyd said at the Web Summit tech conference here.

Trying to revolutionize transportation with capsules that travel superfast on a cushion of air inside a special tube doesn't come cheap, though. Hyperloop Technologies has secured $26 million so far of a planned $80 million second round of startup funding, Lloyd said. That'll go toward buying steel and other materials to build a two-mile test track by the end of 2016.

The hyperloop idea is a cross between science fiction ideas from the future and pneumatic interoffice message-delivery systems from the past. It's not yet clear whether it will catch on broadly as a replacement to trains, buses, cars and airplanes, but it is clear Hyperloop Technologies has big ambitions for the transit technology.

The tech "will make the world a village again. It'll compress space and time," and it'll cut pollution, said company co-founder Shervin Pishevar, who as Sherpa Capital managing director also helped fund Hyperloop Technologies. He predicts the company's links will let people commute something like 200 miles in a half hour or so.

Hyperloop Technologies co-founder Shervin Pishevar speaks at Web Summit 2015.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

That kind of speed could revolutionize shipping, too, Pishevar said. You'll be able to order a product that's manufactured and shipped within 72 hours, eliminating the need for warehouses packed with aging inventory.

"Hyperloop will begin to move us to a completely new transportation grid that'll move atoms as fast as we can move bits," Pishevar said. Shipping will help subsidize passenger uses, he added.

Musk published the hyperloop idea in 2013, saying he was too busy with his electric-car company Tesla Motors and his rocket company SpaceX to pursue it. Another company trying to commercialize the idea is Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. At the same time, SpaceX plans to build a one-mile hyperloop test track, too, though it said "we are not developing a commercial hyperloop ourselves," only accelerating the technology.

Hyperloop Technologies hasn't yet decided where to build its initial test track. But with a massive purchase order for steel awaiting only a shipping address, it'll decide soon, Lloyd said.

Hyperloops will revolutionize aging infrastructure, the company believes. "The fundamental backbone of transportation is based on century-old technology," Lloyd said. But to fulfill the company's ambition, many hyperloop links and stations will be needed, a tricky situation given that a hyperloop link doesn't make much sense for short-haul travel.

Lloyd believes the Hyperloop will work, though. The company is putting together all the elements -- "propulsion, levitation, pod design, tube design" -- right now, Lloyd said. "We'll achieve a test of over 700 miles per hour over 3 kilometers by the end of next year."