The hotel where I’m to meet Bibop Gresta is one of the older luxury hotels in Mumbai, and one I’ve been to numerous times. I’m all too used to the classic Indian layout, with the ambience set by a couple of musicians playing old Hindi film songs on the sitar and tabla. A few minutes later, Bibop Gresta walks in, the exact opposite of everything this old, elegant hotel represents. Here’s a man who is as current as could be in 2017, perhaps even a few years ahead of his time.
Dressed in black and styled exactly as you could expect someone associated with Italian show-business to be, Bibop is unlike most other people that bear the title of Chairman of a major technology company. After years of being a music producer, actor and angel investor, Bibop Gresta now heads Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), one of two significant global organizations involved in the development of the Hyperloop concept.
A bit of background on Hyperloop may be ideal here; the modern idea of the concept was first spoken of by technology tycoon Elon Musk, and the concept was developed as an open-source design by engineers from SpaceX and Tesla, both companies founded and run by Musk. A couple of companies have since then taken the concept and design, aiming to develop working Hyperloop transportation routes around the world. Bibop Gresta’s HTT is one of them, and hopes to be the first to have a functional system in place soon.
“We have filed a conditional permit in California, completed a feasibility study in Abu Dhabi and hope to begin full-scale development soon, we have a grant for land in France for a research and development center, and we’re also starting feasibility studies in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Indonesia and India. Five chief ministers of Indian states are currently interested in the proposition, along with Union Transportation Minister Nitin Gadkari” says Bibop. When asked about specific routes in India, Bibop says it’s still premature as talks are still on, but he did divulge that he had been talking to the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Goa. “In two of the five states that we’re negotiating, we’re very close to signing initial agreements. We have 14 people currently in our HTT India team, working hard on getting things moving.” says Bibop. ALSO READ: Hyperloop One to bring super fast transportation tech to India: opportunities and challenges
A major concern for the Hyperloop concept has been safety, and vulnerability to power outages, terrorist attacks and the like. Bibop does have an answer to these concerns, “We’ve designed our Hyperloop system with an obsession over safety, and have the best experts in the world working on the safety aspect. It’s also important to understand that a lot of the concerns that the air transport industry faces don’t apply to Hyperloop, because of the difference in the science behind it. The capsules and tubes are also designed to be durable, but we have systems in place to ensure the safety of passengers, including the ability to breathe inside a tube in the event of a mishap, and evacuation doors every 30 meters. It will also be designed to withstand earthquakes and other natural calamities.” He also explained that the system is immune to diversions, obstructions such as animals in the way and slowdowns caused by weather.
All of this sounds good, but futuristic concepts tend to be expensive at the start. This raises the question as to how cost efficient Hyperloop can be. Bibop explains that modes of transport such as high-speed railways are expensive because they must be built on the ground. The cost of acquiring land can be intensive, particularly when you consider that you would be splitting the land of many landowners into bits that are no longer connected by building a railway line or roadway through it.
With Hyperloop, the approach is different. “We can approach landowners with a different proposition – You give me small pieces of your land to install pylons which aren’t as disruptive as road or rail, and in exchange I’ll give you the excess of electricity generated with the solar panels installed on the tubes, any water we transport using the tube infrastructure, and connectivity bandwidth that can use the tubes. The system is also completely silent and non-polluting, thus having a minimal environmental impact on your land.” All of this is also expected to drastically reduce the actual cost of building the Hyperloop infrastructure, thus making the transportation system itself affordable, explains Bibop. ALSO READ: Elon Musk’s Boring Company gets government nod to build Hyperloop between New York and DC
While other modes of transport such as road, rail and air have proven abilities when it comes to volume-handling, questions arise as to what Hyperloop’s volumes and capacities are. Bibop Gresta shared some numbers with us, “It’s going to be possible to transport up to 3,400 people per hour with a single tube, which is on the lower side of our estimates. If the capsule capacity is increased from 28 to 40 as we’ve planned, the capacity will increase further. We could potentially go up to 24 million people per year. The designs right now could potentially put up to seven tubes one on top of another, so the possibilities are huge and more than capable of keeping up with transportation demands.”
The important question now is: how close are we to a working and practical Hyperloop solution? HTT has completed its feasibility study in Abu Dhabi, for a route planned between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain covering a distance of about 170 kilometers. “As soon as we got the conditional permit for the route approved, we were given a timeline of 38 months to transport the first passengers. It’s therefore possible that we will see a working, practical Hyperloop route in place by 2020.”