How is this man working to make the exciting hyperloop work?

Abu Dhabi World sits down with the chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies ahead of the release of the results of the Californian company’s feasibility study into a futuristic Hyperloop link between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain…

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s anyone who has driven the somewhat monotonous high-speed road between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain will probably agree, the idea of reducing that one hour and 45-minute drive to just 12 minutes by way of a futuristic Hyperloop link would be an incredibly appealing, even intoxicating, prospect.

Well, in the next few weeks the results of a feasibility study will reveal, on paper at least, if that potential pipe dream, could, in fact, become reality.

“After Ramadan, we are expecting to have the final go and we will be talking about the results of the feasibility study,” Bibop Gresta (pictured, right), chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (Hyperloop TT) told Abu Dhabi World on his most recent visit to the capital.

While the Italian serial entrepreneur would not be drawn on the details of the study, he indicated that he was optimistic about the prospects for the project.

“The results are very encouraging and everybody is happy about that, but we will communicate the results in a proper way with the government.”

Well, before the reveal, let’s find out more about the concept.

What is Hyperloop?

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Conceived by billionaire Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX pioneer Elon Musk, Hyperloop is a concept for a mass transit system. It is intended to work in a similar fashion to the small vacuum tubes that you sometimes see in hospitals or banks – the ones that move sealed containers quickly around a facility.

The Hyperloop, however, when built to go overland and underground, will transport people as well as cargo and in a sealed tube and with zero, or dramatically reduced, friction. It will use technology similar to bullet trains with magnets to propel pods forward and could reach incredible speeds of up to 1,220kph.

Musk decided that the best way to jump-start Hyperloop development would be to open up the idea and, in 2013, he put the “alpha design” online for all to see. He wanted to encourage companies, universities, engineers and inventors to take the idea and run with it. And they did.

There are hundreds of organisations around the planet developing variations of Musk’s original plans, with the first ones to produce a safe, viable and proven version likely to redefine, not only day-to-day travel, but also help redefine whole economies.

It must be noted, however, that at this point, it remains an unproven concept.

The frontrunners are Hyperloop One – which is currently exploring the potential for a route between Abu Dhabi and Dubai – and Hyperloop TT. Hyperloop One is also on the verge of testing the Hyperloop concept, having built a large-scale test structure – the DevLoop – in the Nevada desert.

Gresta meanwhile is celebrating having just inked a deal with the South Korean government to provide expertise to its planned Hyperloop project. This complements other deals it has in place in Indonesia, France and the Czech Republic.

Not entirely without friction

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So, full Hyperloop speed ahead then. That may be so, but the Jetson-esque concept has already faced a fair deal of scepticism.

First, there are those who have contested the potentially astronomical costs of building the systems, which they contend are far higher than Musk and co first projected. Then some scientists question whether the human body can cope with the forces of riding at close to the speed of sound. Among other concerns is the fear factor of the general public at the idea of essentially being ‘shot’ along a tube at high speeds.

“I prefer to describe the Hyperloop journey as a flight but without the risk of the flight,” counters Gresta. “You are in an aeroplane and depart from a station and very gently accelerate up to the speed of sound.

“Especially on the line between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, you will reach that speed at the full-developed capacity, depending on if we’re allowed to [reach top speed]. The government will decide, but in reality, this is not the speed that you reach constantly during the journey. In reality, you will be accelerating very slowly and decelerating very slowly to be at the maximum comfort.

“So, it’s like the beauty of the air industry without the risk of it,” says Gresta.

Assuming Musk, Gresta and every other proponent of the Hyperloop technology prove correct, the potential benefits for Al Ain, the UAE’s Garden City, could be significant.

“They call it the Hyperloop Effect,” says Gresta, beginning to describe the perceived economic benefits of a track and noting that it is built on pylons so as not to disturb farm land or walkways.

“The Hyperloop Effect generates an increase in the land value… the excess of energy that we will produce by our solar panels, the wind, the kinetic energy… can generate up to 30 percent more energy than we consume. This, we will inject back into the grid or store to be used later.

“Imagine how much the tourism industry can actually benefit from the Hyperloop line. So I see several aspects; environmental and tourism and I see an opportunity for growth.

“There’s a new space agency [in Al Ain] that is coming out, and is in construction right now,” he says, noting a sector that will directly benefit from the link.

“It will bring families closer. There are a lot of people who were born in Al Ain and now work in Abu Dhabi and the family remains in Al Ain. I think it’s an amazing opportunity to reconnect the two cities and to discover the immense beauty that Al Ain has,” he says.

Of course, if such a Hyperloop link is established it would also reduce the numbers of cars on the road and cut road accidents.

The buy in

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Gresta may be on the hard sell right now to get this project off the ground, but many wholeheartedly believe in the concept.

In fact, Hyperloop TT’s entire business model relies on such a belief. It is staffed by over 800 engineers, scientists and other highly qualified professionals giving up their time, not for high salaries, but for stock options in the company.

Gresta’s faith in the concept means he will, of course, also be first to hop on board.

“Absolutely. I am proud to say that safety and security are our first concern. We have the top engineers on the planet that have worked from day one to ensure that Hyperloop travel will be safe, economic, and also sustainable… I will be the first one to ride the Hyperloop.”

Innovation, which has very much been at the top of the agenda in the UAE over recent years, is fuelled by such leaps of faith, as well as resilience and incredible effort. As the results of the feasibility study emerge and the development of Hyperloop technology likely to continue apace globally, we hope that it will all pay off and this futuristic innovation becomes a mainstay of capital life.

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