Elon Musk boldly declared in 2013 that the future of travel was the Hyperloop: a magnetic transportation system that levitates a pod traveling 760 miles per hour, safely moving both cargo and people. Musk's idea was to build the high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco--a trip that could be completed in 35 minutes.
Now, three years after Musk's initial idea seemed equal parts amazing and insane, the Hyperloop is a step closer to becoming a reality. Hyperloop One, a Los Angeles-based startup formerly known as Hyperloop Technologies, completed its first test run Wednesday in the Nevada desert. It also announced an $80 million Series B funding round and a series of important partnerships--just in case anyone was doubting whether this idea should be taken seriously.
In December, the company's CEO Rob Lloyd wrote in a blog post that Hyperloop expected to have its "Kitty Hawk moment" in 2016, referencing the North Carolina site of the Wright Brothers' first flight. That moment isn't here yet--Lloyd was referring to a full-scale, two-mile test, which should happen later this year. Wednesday's demonstration included a portion of the pod traveling for five seconds at over 300 mph--and crash landing into piles of sand, since the brakes haven't been built yet.
Either way, the Wright Brothers analogy isn't a stretch--if successful, Hyperloop One's rail could revolutionize travel. The goal is a finished product that costs passengers only $20 for the nearly 400-mile ride. The company has said it wants the rail to be fully functional for passengers by 2020.
Hyperloop was founded in 2014 by entrepreneurs Shervin Pishevar and Brogan BamBrogan. Just 16 months ago, its operations were based out of BamBrogan's garage. Now, after its most recent round, the startup has raised over $100 million in funding from investors including GE Ventures, Sherpa Ventures, and Western Technology Investment. At Wednesday's demonstration, Lloyd pointed out that all the technology on display was assembled within six months.
The Hyperloop as Musk imagined it will operate in a near-vacuum tube, which will drastically limit air resistance. It would eliminate friction by having the pod float above a set of high-powered magnets. At 760 mph, it would travel just below the speed of sound.
Musk isn't directly involved with the project. But he proposed the concept of a high speed rail based on magnets via a post on SpaceX's site in 2013. Musk's SpaceX wants to "accelerate development of a functional Hyperloop prototype," according to the company's website. It's also hosting a contest to build a functioning half-scale pod, which will be tested on a one-mile track at SpaceX's Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters this summer.
The partnerships Hyperloop One announced today include one with SYSTRA, a public transportation engineering firm. The two companies will work together to study high-speed systems in France, Russia, and the Middle East, according to a press release. The startup will also work with Nordic company FS Links with the goal of creating a high-speed rail between Finland and Sweden.
Assuming the technology can be built at scale, the major issue standing in the way of a completed Hyperloop is the cost. The $100 million in funding will help, but Musk has said the project will cost $6 billion, and some experts think the final price tag will be far more. There also will be plenty of political hoops to jump through and land to purchase en route to completing the 400-mile track.
But Hyperloop One's announcements and successful demonstration are serious progress. The Kitty Hawk moment might not be here yet, but it's coming.