Hyperloop One announced Wednesday that it completed the first successful test of its XP-1 passenger pod on July 29. The pod, which will, if all goes according to plan, ultimately travel at speeds up to 750 mph and whisk passengers from, say, New York to DC in about half an hour, travelled 300 meters (984.25 feet or just under a fifth of a mile), reached a top speed of 192 miles per hour and levitated off of its track.
The XP-1 made its voyage at Hyperloop One’s DevLoop test tube north of Las Vegas. The tube, in which the company ran a test pod in May, is but 500 meters long.
Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd told Inverse Wednesday that the pod was “constrained by the length of the tube,” but that the team had “mathematically proven” that speeds up to 700 mph were realizable.
Hyperloop pods use magnetic repulsion to float above rails, thereby all but eliminating the friction that slows traditional vehicles. A hyperloop tube is a near vacuum environment, so there is almost face almost no air resistance.
Most traditional electrical devices cannot function in a near-vacuum, so Hyperloop One’s development team needed a healthy dose of innovation to create the motor that propels the X1. According to Daniel Cooper of Endgadget, Josh Giegel, Hyperloop’s co-founder and president of engineering, calls his team’s “one of the most efficient motors ever built.”
The chief variable limiting the speed of the pod is the “length of motor.” For the May test, the motor was 30 meters long, and the pod hit 69 mph. For the X1’s test, the team increased the length of motor by a factor of ten, thereby “tripling horsepower,” Inverse says.
So, Lloyd reasons, per Inverse, “We know if we increased the length of motor from 300 meters by another 2,000 meters we would go 700 miles an hour. Specifically, we know that. It’s mathematically proven. We can put more juice into the system and we can hit 700 miles an hour. The question is, do we want to do that now?”
There are fiscal as well as physiological reasons to say “no.” Construction is expensive: hyperloop tubes can cost up to $1 billion per mile.
Moreover, it is unknown whether the human body will be able to cope with acceleration and deceleration at near supersonic speeds. No land-bound vehicle has ever traveled at speeds anywhere close to 700 miles an hour. The world’s fastest train, the Japanese Maglev, which uses magnetic levitation similar to that employed by the hyperloop, has reached a top speed of 374 mph. (Unlike the hyperloop, that train still has to contend with air resistance, for it runs on a conventional outdoor track.)
Airplanes can hit speeds of up to about 600 mph, but they accelerate and decelerate gradually.
For these reasons, Lloyd does not plan to put a human being in a hyperloop pod for at least two years, according to Inverse.
There are more immediate kinks the team must work out before turning up the speed. For instance, according to Cooper, engineers must prevent the leaks created when the pod enters and exits the tube.
Still, Hyerloop One has announced a short term goal of 250 mph.
When the X1 does require a longer tube, Giegel says that rather than extend that DevLoop track, the company will carry out future tests in countries which have already expressed interest in one day utilizing the technology. The company has already reached testing agreements with Finland, the Netherlands, and Dubai, and has conducted tests supporting the feasibility of hyperloop routes to from Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden.