Hype no more, Hyperloop to break ground in California

Just 34 minutes to LA? If it delivers on its promise, HTT will make idle Golden Gate Bridge drivers drool with envy.

Just 34 minutes to LA? If it delivers on its promise, HTT will make idle Golden Gate Bridge drivers drool with envy.

by ROB McMANAMY | Nov 3, 2015

“Beam me up, Bibop?”

Well, not quite. But if Hyperloop Transportation Technologies‘ ever-cheerful COO Bibop G. Gresta can be taken at his word, the days of Star Trek-like “transporters” may not be far off. Last month, the Italian-born startup wizard and 24/7 promoter didn’t hold back when he told Dezeen magazine that the proposed Hyperloop high-speed, long distance commuter vacuum tube will be “the closest thing to teletransportation” and “will change completely humanity.”

HTT's Chief Bibop Officer

HTT’s Chief Bibop Officer

Okay, perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but who really knows? Already, the fanciful Elon Musk-inspired transit game-changer is further along than most expected, just two years after HTT opened its doors in Nov. 2013.

And this month, imaginations will really start racing when construction actually begins on a $150-million, crowd-funded, five-mile-long test track in Kings County, CA. Located in the proposed solar-powered Quay Valley, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the greenfield prototype is projected to be ready for testing in mid-2018.



Reality has been overtaking the fanciful mega project for weeks now. In late August, HTT announced that a bona fide engineering and construction team was taking shape. Led by Los Angeles-based giant AECOM, which boasts vast design-construct experience and resources, the group includes Hodgetts + Fung Architects, Culver City CA, and vacuum technology expert Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum, based in Cologne, Germany. Betting on the estimated $6-billion to $16-billion project’s viability and profitability, the teammates now “are working in exchange for stock options,” explained HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn, speaking in October to BBC Radio.

Why would AEC firms put themselves at risk for such unprecedented work? “Because it’s really more than a project now,” added Ahlborn. “It’s become a global movement.”

Indeed, that movement and purpose-driven mentality seems to grow every day. Also on board with HTT is UCLA’s School of Architecture and Urban Design, which this semester launched SUPRASTUDIO, a one-year graduate level program focused solely on studying the Hyperloop’s feasibility. It is led by Prof. Craig Hodgetts, of Hodgetts + Fung. “This [project] is not like a Band-Aid on a system that already exists,” he told a local newspaper, The Daily Breeze, last December. “This is an entirely new, systemic approach to the idea of inter-urban transportation. So it’s not going to play by the rules.”

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 From left, Gresta & Ahlborn pose for Nerdist.com.

From left, Gresta & Ahlborn pose for Nerdist.com.









One “rule” that will have to change is the speeds at which humans are comfortable traveling. Today, commercial airplanes typically cruise at 550-575 mph, while high-speed bullet trains in Japan average about 200 mph. As conceived, the Hyperloop would transport people in computer-run capsules, drawn by powerful vacuums and magnets through elevated tubes that have had the air resistance literally sucked out of them. As a result, designers claim that speeds of 760 mph can and will be attained. “We will crush every record on the ground,” said Gresta.

The first passengers will likely be less exuberant, however. As Andrew Liu, AECOM’s VP for New Ventures told CNN last month, “How are we going to make sure that people are actually willing to get into a pod and travel at 760 mph? A lot of that (will involve) educating the future consumer.”

To ease into that new comfort zone, HTT says it will not test with passengers at full speed, at least at the outset. “We’ll be testing passengers capsule at 360 mph,” Gresta told BuiltWorlds this week.

CNN Future Cities > Transport: Watch this recent brief segment on the Hyperloop here. (CNN)

CNN Future Cities > Transport: Watch this recent brief segment on the Hyperloop here. (CNN)

Meanwhile, across town

As HTT surges into the lead, another Los Angeles-based startup, Hyperloop Technologies remains just as confident that it will win the race. How confident? Last spring, when the group moved into its new digs in downtown L.A.’s gritty arts district, it named the building “Hyperloop World Headquarters”. In reality, the Hyperloop Tech team arguably may be the safer bet.

More high-powered, well-heeled and well-connected than its crowd-funded rival, this team is led by Uber underwriter Shervin Pishevar, former Elon Musk partner and PayPal COO David O. Sacks, and former SpaceX engineer Brogan BamBrogan (not a typo). In September, Hyperloop Tech also hired former CISCO Systems president Rob Lloyd to be its new CEO. In a detailed open letter to the public, posted just after news of his hire had been released, Lloyd gushed with enthusiasm.

“After spending 10 years as an entrepreneur, followed by 20 years growing up in a small company called Cisco that became big and changed the world, I am fired up by the opportunity to change the world again,” he wrote. “The Hyperloop vision is compelling and disruptive. Developing the most transformative new mode of transportation that the world has seen in decades will have a profound impact on people, on economies, and on how we all live in the future. It doesn’t get any better than that… (Also) my four sons all think this is so cool that I am joining Hyperloop!”

We think it’s pretty cool, too. After all, who doesn’t love a race where all of us may end up winners? That said, Gresta is quick to point out that “we’re actually starting to BUILD it. They are starting to STUDY it.”

Let the race begin!

The battle is joined: Hyperloop Tech's growing team is hiring and gearing up to compete with crosstown rival HTT.

The battle is joined: Hyperloop Tech’s growing team is hiring and gearing up to compete with crosstown rival HTT.