2019 Tech Predictions: Hyperloop Will Set a 300MPH-Plus Top Speed Record

Elon Musk's futuristic system is about to get faster.

Hyperloop is speeding up in more ways than one. The vacuum-sealed pod transport tube, first outlined by Elon Musk in a 2013 white paper, turned heads with its promise of blistering speeds of up to 700 mph. As more companies detail future track plans and the technology improves, Inverse predicts that one of the many vehicles in development will beat the existing 290 mph speed record in 2019 and finally break the 300 mph mark.

The concept was first proposed as an alternative to California’s high speed rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which would travel the approximately 380 miles between the two in two hours and 40 minutes. Musk’s proposal was a system that could move people at 760 mph to reach the other end in 35 minutes, costing $6 billion for two one-way tubes and 40 capsules carrying 28 people each. With a capsule leaving every two minutes, Musk suggested a ticket price of $20 could prove economical.

We’re reporting on 19 predictions for 2019. This is #17.

Five years on, and there are no public hyperloop tracks under construction anywhere in the world. There is a lot of activity, though: Virgin Hyperloop One, backed by Richard Branson, has set speed records for its XP-1 pod along the 1,500-foot “DevLoop.” It also committed $500 million to a test site in Spain and held a feasibility study for the Interstate-70 corridor in the United States. SpaceX has held three student-led design competitions, with the most recent in July seeing WARR Hyperloop reach a speed of 290 mph on the 0.8-mile track. Musk, frustrated with the pace of with which the hyperloop is currently coming to market, has since committed his tunnel-digging venture The Boring Company to developing a tunneling system to further all kinds of city-to-city projects.

Hyperloop Gets Speedy

There is plenty of reason to think that hyperloop is going to get faster next year. The current speed record was set on a small track, during a competition, and groups were only given a few hours to prep ahead of the big moment. It’s impressive, but not ideal conditions to push engineering limits.

“Yes, it is possible, that in 2019, the Hyperloop speed record will be broken again,” Manoj Mathew, associate vice president of global sales for Cognizant, a sponsor of a hyperloop team, tells Inverse. “The current top speed of 290 was achieved, although limited by the length and quality of the track and the source of power for the pod. Regarding the overall maximum speed, there are various theories of how to advance the Hyperloop speed, but we are still a long way from reaching them.”

Hyperloop station concept design.
Hyperloop station concept design.

Delft Hyperloop, a team sponsored by Cognizant that competed in the third SpaceX hyperloop competition, sees the current speed record as a matter of competition constraints. The group claims hyperloop could reach its full speed at a comfortable pace over a distance of 44 miles.

“The acceleration [on a public hyperloop] will actually be slower because if you accelerate this fast it will not be comfortable,” Clément Hienen, the team’s design engineer, told Inverse in July. “The speeds will actually be a lot larger because on large tracks, for example from Amsterdam to Paris, that will only take you 30 minutes because speeds of 1,000 kilometers per hour will be reached.”

Hyped-Out Loop

Reaching higher speeds could require longer tracks, but building those would require big capital investment. While a number of private sector firms seem ready to foot the bill, it’s unlikely that there will be much public sector involvement when so many big questions about hyperloop’s feasibility remain. Energy consumption is uncertain, it’s unclear what happens in an emergency, and hyperloop by design breaks compatibility with existing rail infrastructure.

“It is passenger capacity which is arguably the most fundamental challenge,” Gareth Dennis, a lecturer in rail track systems at the UK’s National College for High Speed Rail, wrote in the Railway Gazette. “Using the UK’s planned High Speed 2 as a benchmark, high speed rail capacity can be nearly 20,000 passengers per hour per direction, assuming 18 trains per hour over a double track alignment, each with 1,100 seats. If a hyperloop pod had 50 seats for example, then to match HS2’s capacity 400 pods would need to depart every hour at a 9 sec headway. Assuming the same number of seconds to alight from a Hyperloop pod as a train, 23 tubes would be needed to match HS2’s throughput.”

19 Predictions for 2019: What Inverse Thinks

Hyperloop is likely to glide along next year, as big names like Musk and Branson continue to invest in its development. SpaceX is set to hold its fourth hyperloop competition in the summer of 2019, which could produce a new speed record. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is also set to finish construction of a 0.6-mile test track in Toulouse, France, which could give rise to a surprise challenger in the space. Inverse predicts that 2019 is the year when hyperloop whizzes past 300 mph.

Related video: Hyperloop One’s Devloop In The Nevada Desert

Media via Delft, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies