There are many concerns about using hyperloop technology to move people—securing the politically fraught right-of-ways, successfully depressurizing the tubes over long distances, or addressing the fact that passengers moving at 700 mph will likely get sick. However, if cities are only using the hyperloop to move cargo, many of those concerns evaporate.
That’s why using this potentially game-changing method of moving freight is such a big idea—and one that has now been visualized by Foster + Partners for Virgin Hyperloop One and DP World, which operates 78 major ports and terminals all over the world.
“As hyperloop looks to reinvent urban transport and logistics, the city of the future is closer than we think,” Norman Foster told Dezeen. “It is important we develop an integrated sustainable vision of infrastructure that will enable us to evolve and adapt our existing cities, and design new ones that will be in harmony with nature and our precious planet.”
The partnership makes sense due to Foster’s relationship with Virgin Galactic designing its Spaceport America (which is complete, yet mostly just a tourist attraction). Last year, Virgin bought a stake in Hyperloop One, one of several companies developing the technology.
Foster’s concept includes adding new hyperloop infrastructure to every major port, which would replace current trucking and rail connections to quickly and efficiently move cargo to nearby distribution centers in cities. The system would be autonomous and completely solar-powered, thanks to panels covering the hyperloop tubes. Freight that needs to be dispatched further afield—or on a faster timeline due to on-demand shipping—would be loaded onto an electric vehicle or dispatched by a fleet of drones (of course).
Virgin founder Richard Branson promised earlier this year that human travel by hyperloop is only three years away, and the company has even developed an app to plan trips. Currently, the technology is being proposed for pretty much every type of intercity transportation situation—including two competing proposals for the United Arab Emirates that both claim they will be completed by 2020.
But if this cargo-focused plan were implemented, it would have a far greater impact.
The freight industry currently produces 10 percent of the global emissions that cause climate change. Ports all over the world are working hard to reduce the environmental impact of unloading and distributing freight, and a solar-powered hyperloop system that did much of the heavy lifting could go a long way toward a goal of of zero-emission goods movement.
What’s also promising about this proposal is that the right-of-ways for moving goods are largely already established; a hyperloop network could simply be built along these existing alignments. These are also some of the unhealthiest corridors in the world when it comes to air quality, so not only would freight move faster and more efficiently through them, but the communities around them would benefit as well.