During a panel conversation on March 13, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies co-founder and CEO Dirk Ahlborn plans to share some of the latest developments with the nearly 800-mile-per-hour transportation tube concept Musk introduced in 2013. Inc. sat down with Ahlborn the day before his SXSW presentation to get a sneak peak at what he plans to disclose. Here are four surprising facts Ahlborn shared.
1. Making the Hyperloop work doesn't require reinventing the wheel.
Skeptics who look at the Hyperloop as a science fiction idea can find most of the technology needed to transport passengers in a depressurized tube in national research labs, according to Alhborn. "We know we can build pylons [the support beams beneath the tube], make a train levitate and move, and create a vacuum inside a tube," he says, adding that the train industry has not been disrupted in 100 years. Surprisingly, the challenges Ahlborn cites as top of mind for the company have to do with things like making it easy for lots of people to use the Hyperloop regularly. "If it takes you an hour and a half to get to the station and then 36 minutes to get to San Francisco, you're not going to use it everyday," he says.
2. The startup's innovative crowdsourced hiring model is working so far.
Los Angeles-based HTT is known for its unconventional approach to hiring, having spent the last two and a half years building a team composed of scientists and engineers based all over the world, all of whom work on the project in exchange for stock options. While crowdsourcing your talent and and offering equity-only compensation might raise some eyebrows, HTT's team has grown from 400 last year to around 520 today, and more than 100 of its team members have expressed interest in investing in the company, according to Ahlborn. He even credits the progress the company has made to working only with people who are so dedicated to transforming transportation that they will do it for stock options. "If you have 500 or 1,000 people that are passionate about the same things you are, then you can build a better company," he says.
3. Lots of companies want a piece of the Hyperloop.
Though HTT hasn't raised traditional funding yet--Ahlborn says more than 600 institutional investors want to invest--it has received $60 million worth of donations from companies in the form of land assets, wind chambers, and other engineering tools. Why? Companies like engineering design firm Aecom and equipment manufacturer Oerlikon Leybold Vacuumhad, which worked on CERN's hadron collider, have helped work on the system in exchange for stock options. "That's the advantage of our model," Ahlborn says. "We work with the guys who invented the vacuum."
4. Governments across the world want their own Hyperloop.
Though HTT's prototype test track for the Hyperloop is expected to break ground later this year in California, the company surprisingly announced last week that it had signed a formal agreement with Slovakia to explore building a Hyperloop system in Europe, the first such agreement signed by a federal government. HTT co-founder and COO Bibop Gresta says the company is expecting to announce similar agreements with six more countries around Asia and the Middle East in the next few months.
Despite the interest from around the world, Ahlborn says that the first passengers to travel on the Hyperloop test track will be in the U.S., either in late 2018 or early 2019.