Here in the futuristic Middle Eastern city of Dubai, along with the deserts of Nevada, an unbelievably ambitious idea is fast becoming reality: A plan to suck commuters and people late for birthday parties through tubes at 700 miles an hour. A plan to slash journey times from hours to minutes. A plan to reinvent transportation to eliminate the barriers of time and distance — using apps, autonomous vehicles, and a vacuum.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk introduced the idea of Hyperloop in 2013, with his white paper “Hyperloop Alpha.” But busy with SpaceX, Tesla, and solar panels, Musk handed over the idea to the world, with a challenge to the globe’s engineers to effectively create this generation’s Concorde. It was a charge the team at Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One were only too happy to adopt, and they haven’t hung around. In less than two years, the start-up has raised more than $160 million, assembled a team of more than 200 engineers, and developed a 10,000-square meter factory in Las Vegas. Industry leaders, investors, and governments are sniffing success.

Tuesday morning, during a slick product launch on the 112th floor of the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd signed an agreement with Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority to explore if the Hyperloop can be built in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai’s government will fund a detailed feasibility study involving McKinsey & Co. and the architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), to take the next giant leap in commercial travel. The aim: To create a Hyperloop link between Dubai and the capital city Abu Dhabi, by 2020. It would cut travel time from 2 hours to a mere 12 minutes.

Dubuai's rapidly changing landscape includes an expanded Dubai Canal.
Dubuai's rapidly changing landscape includes an expanded Dubai Canal.

Skeptics might argue only four years is an unrealistic target. But Hyperloop One started in co-founder Josh Giegel’s garage in 2014, and now the team is planning practical tests in the Nevada desert early 2017. Two years ago, the government of Dubai announced a new 3.2-kilometer canal (seen below) to cut through the city. Residents scoffed at the declaration it would take only two years to excavate, and bridges over the city’s three main arteries needed to be built. It officially opens Wednesday. Suddenly 2020 for Hyperloop One starts to sound realistic.

How Hyperloop One Thinks It Will Work

But the team in Dubai aren’t just planning to speed things up. They want to change the very face of travel. With the input of Danish architects from BIG, they’ve created an integrated system involving self-driving vehicles: These on-demand, autonomous, pod-like vehicles will pick you up from your door (Uber-style) and drive you to “portals.” They’re not exactly stations, because you won’t ever be stationary — the portals are even designed without waiting rooms. Instead, on arrival, your pod will be instantly sucked into the Hyperloop, and 12 minutes later you’ll arrive in Abu Dhabi. Your pod will then drive you to your destination.

“It’s an on demand, weather-proof, direct-to-destination, ultra-safe, ultra-fast, ultra-reliable energy-elegant system for moving people and goods,” Giegel told Inverse on Tuesday.

Hyperloop One released this concept video that shows an example trip:

And a Dubai to Abu Dhabi Hyperloop journey is only the beginning. Giegel says he has his mind set on a super-fast system linking locations in the Gulf Region. Qatar, which is hosting the 2022 World Cup, is next on the list (Doha to Dubai in 23 minutes), followed by Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia (48 minutes). With cities around the globe considering hyperloop, they may well be on the cusp of something extraordinary.

“It’s the full-world domination strategy,” Giegel told us with a smile.

Josh Giegel, Hyperloop One co-founder and president of engineering.
Josh Giegel, Hyperloop One co-founder and president of engineering.

Helsinki and Stockholm are considering a Hyperloop (310 miles in 30 minutes), and Hyperloop One’s Vice President, Alan James, says the company is looking to cut the journey between Melbourne and Sydney to 55 minutes. Even the Russian government is considering constructing a Hyperloop in Moscow.

They need to test their technology, they need investors, and they need more governments to get involved. And then, “full-world domination.”

Georgia Tolley is a freelance journalist based in Dubai. She produces and occasionally presents "The Business Breakfast" for Dubai Eye 103.8 FM. Before moving to the UAE, she lived in London for 15 years, working on BBC Radio 4 news programs and LBC talk radio.