Exploring the Hype in the Hyperloop

Viewers inspect a piece of Hyperloop tubing at the launch festival in 2016. (Photo by Kevin Krejci)

Peter Ellis is a regular contributor for BuiltWorlds.

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Having just read the article in BuiltWorlds on the Hyperloop, I exclaim to my wife, with the unbridled enthusiasm of one who has just seen the future, that we will soon be traveling through a magnetic steel tube between cities at airplane speeds. “No way am I putting my head through an MRI,” she passionately exclaims. It can be very lonely at the front line of technological change.

Assuming that the engineering and economic arguments put forward by the Hyperloop One team are sound—and I certainly do not have the expertise to challenge them—then I do believe we are at an inflection point, where the a new mode of transport has the potential to move goods and people at 500–700 miles an hour, connecting all cities and major towns in the United States. What does this mean for the future of the built world?

  • Scenario 1: Hyperloop beams you to your destination faster and cheaper than air travel. This would be a very positive outcome, substituting short airline trips with more efficient movement between city centers. Furthermore, given a short seven-second headway between “capsules,” the volume of people and goods would increase significantly.
  • Scenario 2: Hyperloop is faster and more economical than a Maglev train. If, in practice, it achieves twice the speed at less cost, then there is the potential for the Hyperloop to connect not only the major cities along the coastal urban corridors but also the secondary urban centers between the Pacific and the Atlantic. The Hyperloop team speaks of connecting all cities in the US like stops on a metro system. They perceive the movement of modules to be similar to packets of information on broadband. This implies an extensive interconnected network, like our national highway system today.

Should the above prove true, I believe that urban and industrial development will be able to locate more freely, that secondary cities and towns will grow, and that more regions of the country will have significant potential for economic growth. Yes, the coastal cities will certainly thrive, but growth will explode far from the coasts. Would this help spread economic opportunity and bridge the red-blue state divide?

“I believe that urban and industrial development will be able to locate more freely, that secondary cities and towns will grow, and that more regions of the country will have significant potential for economic growth.

— Peter Ellis, Founder, New Cities

Not a day goes by without reading about driverless cars. Taken together, autonomous modules and the Hyperloop have exponential power to transform our world. Should I be able to board a driverless module at a hotel in Chicago, connect to a Hyperloop station, get beamed to New York, and be delivered through Manhattan to my destination, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief that we will not be the next person to be dragged off United. The way we design our cities, the way we develop our regions, will radically change in ways that we cannot foresee. Did Henry Ford imagine Los Angeles?

Back to that MRI. The user experience is paramount for the success of the Hyperloop. Certainly, it must be an improvement over the airlines and Amtrak. But what about barreling across the country at 700 miles an hour in the dark in what appears to be a pipeline? I, for one, want to see where I am going, even if most people on the bus don’t look up from their smartphones. I believe this can be resolved with a virtual reality system that projects the environment on digital screens. Given the magnetic levitation, once accelerated, it should be smooth sailing with little sense of movement, serene perhaps, or otherworldly. I better stop here; it’s beginning to sound like an MRI.


About the Author

Peter Ellis founded Peter Ellis New Cities (PENC) in 2010, an architecture and urban design firm that is dedicated to the design and implementation of new cities. Peter is now dedicated to promoting innovation in new cities. In particular, he is focusing on the restructuring of American cities to address the urgent challenge of climate change.