Challenges for the Hyperloop

With the ongoing developments for the hyperloop, more hurdles and challenges start arising. Multiple involved parties are rushing their designs in the hope to be the first company to build a hyperloop. The problem that arises here is that most design choices made are subjective and sub-optimal. The need for objective, open-source research is there to be able to converge to the best possible hyperloop design. In this article, multiple hurdles and interesting problems for the hyperloop are explained as envisioned by Delft Hyperloop.

Business case

A business case is a feasibility study done preparatory to the start of a project. The costs are weighed against the benefits and in this way, a conclusion can be drawn whether or not to continue with the project. Naturally, the project is started once the benefits outweigh the costs. For the hyperloop, such an investigation into the profitability should also be done. Interesting factors here are which parties will finance the hyperloop, which parties will profit and what will a hyperloop ticket cost.

Emergency exits

Emergency exits in some form are required for the hyperloop. There are always emergencies that could occur in the tube and people must be evacuated. However, designing an emergency exit system that both accommodates sufficient safety and acceptable costs is complex.  What emergencies are critical and to what emergencies the system needs to be designed, is unclear.
A hyperloop has never been built and operated before, so practical experience and data is not readily available. It is hard to determine what is acceptable in terms of safety.

High speed switches

In the hyperloop network all hubs are connected with links. However, there are multiple ways to connect to a hub using the links. An option is to directly connect all hubs similar to a metro system. All links pass through the stations, where the pods have to stop. Another option is to use a highway system, using ramps towards and from the station. This allows pods to cruise past the station and direct links throughout the whole network can be created. For the latter option, high speed switches are required to switch onto the ramps.
High speeds switches can be valuable for the hyperloop as it can increase the efficiency of the system and reduce the average travel times. The technological development of high speeds switches is in its infancy and feasibility needs to be proven.

Road to implementation

The hyperloop is gaining momentum, more and more parties are joining the development. Some of these parties operate open-source, however, several parties are more commercial and keep most to themselves (intellectual property). In the end, the hyperloop aims to be a mode of transportation connecting different large hubs throughout the continent. To achieve this effectively, there should be one hyperloop design and a central organ in control of the project.
The real problem here is, how do we converge from the current situation, lots of different open source and private hyperloop parties, to the end situation, ready for implementation?

Standardisation

Standardisation is closely related to the previous point. Again there are multiple different open-source and private hyperloop parties with different visions of what an ideal hyperloop would look like. A consensus should be reached over the optimal hyperloop design, in order to connect countries with the hyperloop. However, how do we reach this consensus? All the different vision have approached from a different perspective and are not per se worse or better than others. A big challenge here is to converge without losing important steps in innovation.

Levitation

In ‘Levitation Systems for a Hyperloop’ (link), several levitation mechanisms were described. Each one comes with a different guideway and are often not compatible with each other. This makes is difficult to develop a tube where more than one levitation mechanism is possible. Because the levitation mechanism has so much impact on the guideway, tube and vehicle design, one is inclined to standardise this right away. However, the standard should not be set right now, since there are still many developments going on regarding levitation mechanisms and guideways. Standardisation would bring innovation to a standstill or at least slow it down. Some challenges are:

  • Developing an EMS system which is always reliable (because the system relies on active systems, if a power outage occurs the safety should be guaranteed at all times)
  • Developing an EDS guideway with higher Lift/Drag (Inductrack or EDS with superconducting magnets is promising for this, but there are certainly other configurations possible)
  • Coming up with alternative levitation mechanisms

Financing the Hyperloop

The hyperloop will cost a good amount of money, but someone has to finance it. The maglev is a technology that makes use of magnetic levitation and is mainly used in Japan and China. However the maglev is hardly getting momentum due to its high costs. Although the hyperloop does have quite some advantages over the maglev, the same problem should be averted. Whether the governments, companies or private investors will pay is unsure. But a combination of parties is likely.
The challenge that lays here is closely related to the business case mentioned earlier. The hyperloop is promising, but if there are no financers for the project, it is not going to be realised.


Feel free to discuss these problems below and to contact us with any question or ideas!


By Delft Hyperloop, May 2019

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