Hyperloop One to bring super fast transportation tech to India: Opportunities and challenges

Hyperloop is an integrated transportation system to move passengers or goods faster, safely, efficiently and sustainably.

Hyperloop in India

“It’s like a physical broadband,” says Nick Earle, SVP Global Field Operations for Hyperloop One – a company working towards building functional hyperloop systems in the world. The technology uses electric propulsion to levitate pods carrying passengers or goods at a low-cost, energy-efficient, and safe manner. After kick starting the pilot project in Los Angeles, Hyperloop One, now intends to bring the technology to India and make it one of the first countries in the world to embrace the futuristic mode of transportation.

The project with alternate mode of transport is based on the hyperloop technology – the brainchild of Tesla CEO Elon Musk – and is aimed at delivering fast yet affordable mode of transportation for moving passengers and goods. Hyperloop One, as a company is working towards commercializing the technology by building a network of fast, reliable, clean, and on-demand autonomous transport. At the ‘Vision for India’ summit, Hyperloop One discussed the country’s most promising hyperloop routes.

What is hyperloop?

Hyperloop is Elon Musk’s idea for a transformational transport system. Musk likens the idea to a cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table. The technology allows pod-like vehicles to travel through a near-vacuum tube at more than airline speed. The concept of having futuristic high-speed vehicles is not something new as we have seen with the Japenese Maglev trains which are capable of reaching dizzying speeds of 603 kmph. However, in hyperloop technology, the pods are supported by ‘skis’, which receive air from the suction fan, and use this air to push against the inner walls of the transportation tube to levitate the pod.

As an open-source idea, hyperloop technology is being explored by a bunch of manufactures of which Hyperloop One claims to be the only company in the world building a commercial hyperloop system. Hyperloop One was incorporated in 2014 and its core founding and engineering team has strong connections with Musk and SpaceX and hence, is indirectly associated with the person behind the revolutionary idea. It is headquartered in Los Angeles and led by CEO Rob Lloyd and co-founded by Executive Chairman Shervin Pishevar and President of Engineering Josh Giegel.

What hyperloop means for India?

The hyperloop technology concept was first proposed in 2013 and Hyperloop One is claimed to be the first company on track to bring the world’s first full-system test in 2017 in Nevada. In a country like India, with a population of over a billion and multiple modes of transportation co-existing, there still lies a huge scope of a transportation system that is not only disruptive but builds on the idea of safe, high-speed, sustainable and on-demand transport system that is also integrated with the existing modes of transport. The idea here is to make transportation system airline-fast at the cost of bus tickets. 

Despite having the fourth-longest railway network in the world after US, China and Russia, India’s railway system is far from being called a high-speed with maximum speeds reaching mere 150-160 kmph. The country’s dynamic geography restricts how a person or cargo can be moved across the length and breadth of the nation, and the journey entails longer travel periods, sometimes including multiple modes of transport. With hyperloop, the distance between cities and towns will essentially come down to minutes. ALSO READ: 200 more Indian railway stations to get free Wi-Fi in 2017: Suresh Prabhu

Additionally, when distance will transform into minutes, it will also mean a decrease in migration and increase in productivity. For a person getting a job offer in a different city would no longer mean shifting out of the current city. With the transformative system in place, the time taken to travel between cities will technically become as mundane as perhaps boarding a bus or hailing an auto ride.

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Currently, five corridors in India have been identified as the testing waters for the futuristic transport system. These have been selected based on a global challenge conducted by Hyperloop One which witnessed maximum registrations from India. The semi-finalist teams from the country, which includes entrepreneurs, engineers, and other stakeholders, have proposed the system to be applied for five corridors include:

– Bengaluru to Chennai, covering 334 km distance in just 20 minutes for freight and passengers

– Bengaluru to Thiruvananthapuram, covering 736 km in 41 minutes. In this proposed network, the line will also connect two major ports in Southern India.

– Delhi to Mumbai, via Jaipur and Indore, covering 1,317 km in 55 minutes and connecting two megacities.

– Mumbai to Chennai, via Bengaluru, covering 1,102 km in 50 minutes and creating a Suez Canal-like link between India’s coasts

– Bengaluru to Chennai, 334 km in 20 minutes, for passengers and freight.

Using the hyperloop technology will essentially transform these cities which are miles apart into metro stops. The urban area, which today consumes an average of 3 hours of travel between cities, will shrink to just 15 minutes with hyperloop systems. Along with bringing down the travel time, the technology also aims to offer a one-stop platform that delivers connectivity and inter-operability. ALSO READ: Elon Musk’s Hyperloop could replace high-speed rail in Australia

What are the challenges?

At the ‘Vision for India’ summit, the prime focus was laid on how challenging a task it is to bring hyperloop technology to the Indian land where stringent regulations are hard to bypass. “The biggest challenge for Hyperloop One in India will be to ascertain a clear indication of goodwill coming from both the center and state government. It is easy to look at the technology and say ‘it’s a fast transportation system’, every country wants it. The challenge for any country is whether there is recognition for the transformative technology which is more than just an alternative to high-speed trains,” Nick Earle told BGR India.

Reiterating the need for support from the government and regulatory bodies, Earle further told BGR India, “The challenge is a political goodwill to see this transformative technology as part of the national agenda.”

Hyperloop One-02

“India is an extremely important geography for developing Hyperloop networks and reimagining how cities and regions work. The Prime Minister’s vision of connecting the country is directly aligned with Hyperloop One’s objective of connecting the world. With initiatives such as ‘Make In India’ and ‘Digital India’, we do see ourselves working in this direction in India,” says Shervin Pishevar, Executive Chairman of Hyperloop One.

Among the many questions, the pressing issues emerge from the regulatory authorities and economic benefits derivable from the ambitious project. While the government is looking at bringing the technology to India, it wants it to be indigenously co-developed and executed. Although the technology looks promising, stakeholders have indicated that for Hyperloop One to make way into the Indian transportation system, the company must look at where does it fit in the regulatory framework of the country. To build a sound system using hyperloop technology, the company needs to analyse the risks involved and look at economic benefits to be able to better propose the project to the government.

Additionally, the investors also propose that Hyperloop One should also integrate other industries in realizing its goals. If the company does land the project in India, it should use the alignment or the land/ resources provided to accommodate other industries. For example, if the land is provided, in the same tunnel design, Hyperloop One should be able to allow other things or industries to pass through such as gas pipelines or water pipelines, etc.

Given that the Indian regulatory framework is that of a very stringent nature, it might seem like an unlikely proposition for a company to sell its concept idea with ease. However, as Earle puts it, the hyperloop transport system is no replacement for the existing modes, but an entirely new and alternate way of moving goods and people. For this, Hyperloop One is looking at government bodies, regulatory authorities, and other stakeholders to put together a framework for the project’s execution.

The road ahead

NITI Aayog CEO, Amitabh Kant, who was also present at the summit, said that hyperloop will be transformative in the process of urbanization and transportation. Calling it a ‘unique disruptive technology,’ Kant further welcomed the project and said that the government bodies will be eager to act as a catalyst and work in partnership with Hyperloop One to accelerate the pace of the project.

Meanwhile, Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu, expressed interest and encouraged the project saying the Indian government will be closely watching the development made by Hyperloop One. The minister further talked about how India could serve as the hub for developing the futuristic technology by first co-developing with partners then moving towards total indigenous production.

Following Suresh Prabhu and Amitabh Kant’s positive outlook towards the project, Hyperloop One is encouraged about bringing the technology to India. Comparing the leapfrogging opportunity to the rollout of 4G in India, Earle said India does have a track record at adopting newer technologies and with the goodwill and leadership, the country has the potential to create futuristic transport technology. ALSO READ: Reliance Jio to lead 4G revolution in key markets like India: IDC

For Hyperloop One, the agenda is to not only build tube-based vehicle system but also move towards a larger system where inter-operability is possible. Drawing the parallel between building a mobile software, Earle said that Hyperloop One is building something akin to iOS for an iPhone; a platform, a one-click control system for the futuristic transport system that also connects with other modes and networks of transport. The company aims to build an IT control platform similar to the air traffic control system and will be soon publishing a set of standards for inter-operability so that other manufacturers of hyperloops can connect. The first step here is to connect multiple hyperloops together, followed by releasing APIs so that developers can build an app or a platform that will allow users to book a ticket which has multiple transport options.

  • Published Date: March 1, 2017 8:46 AM IST
  • Updated Date: March 1, 2017 2:06 PM IST