Transforming 'Hype' Into Hyperloop
By Bill Moore
Several different groups are bent on building a working hyperloop transportation system. One of them is Hyperloop Technologies with James Dorris leading development of the linear accelerator motors.
EV World: Tell us about your company. WHO is Hyperloop Technologies?
James Dorris: Hyperloop Technologies Inc. is an incredibly passionate team of over 50 full-time employees who are engineering unique transportation solutions worldwide for both cargo and passengers. The company was founded in 2014 by Brogan BamBrogan and Shervin Pishevar, and is headquartered in the downtown Los Angeles Arts District. From rockets, to turbines, to laser communication systems, to electric vehicles and fusion energy research diagnostics – this is an amazing team of engineers who have substantial experience in building hardware and creating new technologies, and share a passion for impacting the world. We’re also extremely excited to have former Cisco President Rob Lloyd join the company as CEO.
EVW: For people who aren't familiar with the origins of the hyperloop concept, could you give us a quick refresher course?
JD: At Hyperloop Technologies Inc, we think about the Hyperloop concept as the transportation innovation and solution for the future, creating efficiencies for travel and commerce – for people, cargo and trade. The Hyperloop concept originated from Elon Musk who published a white paper in August 2013. Elon has described the Hyperloop as a “cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table”- more importantly it is the fifth mode of transportation - a levitated pod traveling at speeds of up to 700 mph inside a low-pressure tube. The architecture that Elon published is an innovative architecture. We are taking the white paper, innovating on top of it, and turning it into a reality. Key areas where we are innovating - 1.) air bearing technology, 2.) compressor design, 3.) propulsion, 4.) tube manufacturing.
EVW: How is hyperloop different from the concept of 'vacuum tube' people movers of Popular Science in the 1920s?
JD: Now is the time for a Hyperloop system, because technology has advanced to a point where we can make it happen at a tractable cost. For example, consider that it’s only in the last 20 years that Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has combined with high power computing to simulate real 3D fluid dynamics problems. For the Hyperloop system, we’re designing a compressor that has to operate efficiently in a low pressure environment – CFD is an invaluable asset in this development. A second example, is that Neodymium magnets were developed in 1982 and only really made it to higher temperature operation in the last decade. It’s not that a ‘vehicle in a tube’ concept has never been considered, but that now is the time when technologies exist that can enable us to make it a reality. We’re on the precipice of the autonomous vehicle revolution and Hyperloop will be leveraging these technologies with each autonomous HyperPod feeding information back to the network to improve overall system efficiency.
EVW: What's Elon Musks involvement, if any, with Hyperloop Technologies? Who else is involved besides H.T.?
JD: Elon Musk is not directly involved with Hyperloop Technologies. The way we work and built the organization is a function of his ethos and philosophy. This specific architecture of Hyperloop is unique and innovative.
EVW: What are the technological hurdles to make this a reality? What are the safeguards that will be needed?
JD: When we think about challenges and risks, we also think about our opportunities. Right now, we’re heads-down focused on developing 4 core technologies: the compressor on the front of the pod that prevents pressure from building up; the levitation system that keeps the pod gliding without friction, the low-pressure sealed tube environment that reduces aerodynamic drag, and the propulsion system that makes it all move. We have test rig hardware at our innovation campus in downtown LA, and several large-scale tests upcoming. Hyperloop is inherently a super safe system - it's weather proof and driverless, taking human error out of the equation.
EVW: What do you see as your firm's role in bringing this vision of 700 mph transit into reality?
JD: Hyperloop Technologies Inc. has the team, the capital, and the resources to ensure that Hyperloop becomes reality. At our core, we’re technology developers and hardware builders. We’re laser focused on developing the core tech, as well as developing the machines that can build this hardware at a price point that gives us a strong business case and attracts strategic partners and customers. We look forward to 2016 being our Kitty Hawk moment when the test track is fully operational.
EVW: Investors, both public (gov't) and private (Wall Street, big business), have a choice between 500 mph airliners, 300 mph maglev, or Hyperloop? What's you best argument for funding your approach?
JD: Simple – Hyperloop will be the best way to travel that is economically efficient. The operating costs for the passenger version (ticket prices), travel time, comfort, and hassle-free experience are all benefits of the Hyperloop, not to mention that Hyperloop means cleaner transportation and less pollutants than other modes of transportation. We live in a time where there is boundless technical potential, and yet the four modes of transportation we are accustomed to haven't evolved much - the current infrastructure is saturated. Instead of investing in 19th or 20th century technology, our team at Hyperloop Tech believes in solving 21st century problems with 21st century solutions.
EVW: The Chinese have found that building out their bullet train system has changed real estate and employment patterns. Cities 60-100 miles away have become 'bedroom' communities for larger cities like Beijing. What do you see would be the economic impact of Hyperloop?
JD: We expect the impact of Hyperloop to be vast – it will change not only real estate patterns but business patterns as well. Examples of this: 1.) Distributed cities (ie - Live in Philadelphia, and work in NYC. And endless possibilities for short range inter urban transport.) 2.) Offshore ports. 3.) Long range freight. 4.) Solving airport delays. One distributed airport.
EVW: How much is all this going to cost? Where are you going to get the money?
JD: My role is designing and building the electric propulsion motor, so I won't speak to this area aside from saying that we know the amount of capital that building something of this size and scale requires, and to that end, Hyperloop Technologies Inc. has secured financing from leading investors Formation 8, Sherpa Ventures, Zhen Capital, Caspian VC, David O. Sacks and more. The Series A financing of $10m was raised over 2-3 months in 2014, and the company is currently raising an $80m Series B round.
EVW: What's the chronology for bringing the system into reality? Status of test tracks in Texas and central California?
JD: There are several entities we are aware of who are working on the Hyperloop concept in some way. Hyperloop is a hard problem to solve, and it is solvable. In order to develop the technology, we need capital, resources, and a team that accelerates it - and we have that. We know a lot of people are working on it, and we are heads down focused on our approach. By the end of 2016 / early 2017, Hyperloop Tech will demonstrate a full speed, full size and fully capable test track. Our first sections of tube will begin arriving later this year, with the first Pods constructed in the beginning of next year. The systems and products will be ready and proven and commercially viable by 2020. Hyperloop Tech will have resources to make this happen faster than anybody else could today by recruiting like-minded talent around the world for this global movement.
Originally published: 10 Oct 2015
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