One of the world’s frothiest transportation fantasies is quickly moving from hype to reality. Hyperloop One, one of several companies racing to bring the tubular transportation tech to market, unveiled evidence of two big achievements today—a full-scale prototype of its pod design and a real-world test of its propulsion technology in vacuum conditions.
It was only about a year ago that Hyperloop One first demonstrated its propulsion technology in a three-second spectacle that was quickly slingshotted around the world on social media. At the time, the company commented that the “sled” which performed the test would be replaced with 28-passenger pods that could be moved at great speeds through a vacuum tube.
That brings us to today’s announcement: A video of the first full-scale test of the technology in a vacuum tube, which took place out in the Nevada desert. But as The Verge notes, the test only achieved a top speed of 70 mph—it will need to go 750 mph in order to fulfill transportation promises like zipping from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes, for example.
As the video shows, the pods will be propelled forward with an electric motor using magnetic-levitation (mag-lev) technology—the same tech that powers existing high-speed trains—but when the low-pressure environment is introduced in the tube, it decreases friction, allowing the pods to travel at very high speeds. As described by Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar in a statement. “By achieving full vacuum, we essentially invented our own sky in a tube, as if you’re flying at 200,000 feet in the air.”
The new pod design also demonstrates Hyperloop One’s quick progression towards building a complete full-scale prototype. Made from structural aluminum and carbon fiber, the 28-foot pods will be able to carry passengers and cargo through tube networks that are above or below the ground.
Hyperloop One has been busy on the policy side as well, conducting a competition that got cities across the country to propose their own ideas for how to use the technology to solve transportation problems. In some cases, local Departments of Transportation are already putting funding behind the proposals. The company also enlisted architect Bjarke Ingels for station design—called “portals”—with the goal of turning these into new civic landmarks.
According to Hyperloop One, the next milestone is getting the test tube to achieve a speed of 250 mph. And, of course, convincing skeptical transportation planners that this is a better solution than tried-and-true high-speed rail.