Truck Tech

Hyperloop: A Faster Future for Freight?

Commentary by Jack Roberts, Senior Editor

April 7, 2017

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Elon Musk is betting that hyperloop pods will one day carry passengers and cargo at speeds up to 800 mph. Photo: Hyperloop One
Elon Musk is betting that hyperloop pods will one day carry passengers and cargo at speeds up to 800 mph. Photo: Hyperloop One

Don't feel bad if you’re having a hard time keeping up.

We all feel that way.

It’s always been this way, I suppose. Flashback a few thousand years ago, and there was probably some old guy sitting in a cave by the fire, grousing about how easy the kids today have it running around with their fancy-pants bows and arrows. “In my day,” he probably muttered, “we had to take a good, old-fashioned club and get right in the saber-tooth tiger’s face to kill it!”

And it wasn’t too terribly long ago when we had old men, who’d been young men once staring down the guns at Gettysburg, trying to work their minds around the sight of a flying machine or a motion picture.

Both of my paternal grandparents could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing the first time they saw an airplane in flight. And they lived to see men walk on the moon.

The problem most of us have today is that there’s so much change going in so many different areas that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. Let’s go back to the moon landing for a minute: I was born in 1966. So I pretty much grew up watching the Space Race in real time. I knew the names of the astronauts and what the upcoming missions were. Today, I can’t keep track of how many private and public space ventures are going on. You’ve got the Chinese trying to land on the moon, the Japanese just tested an orbital rocket, India will test a crew-capable orbiter later this year, Boeing hopes to fly its Starliner space capsule by year’s end, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin Space Tourist ship has completed initial testing, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is seriously eying an eventual manned Mars mission with his SpaceX program.

Say what you will about Musk – to me, he always looks like he should be sitting in a high-tech volcano headquarters, petting a cat and telling 007 how he’s going to die – but he is an absolute genius. And along with Bezos and a handful of other visionaries, he’s out to change our world, whether you like it or not. He’s already changed the face of the electric car industry with his Tesla sedans. And he’s even looking at radical new ways to tackle age-old technologies like tunnels. One of his biggest projects has the potential to change the way we move people and goods forever.

It’s called the Hyperloop, and it sounds like something straight out of science fiction: Passenger and cargo pods that resemble a train (sort of) but are levitated and travel inside a closed tube in a vacuum environment. Musk’s program, called Hyperloop1, has a test loop set up in the desert outside of Las Vegas and will begin initial testing very soon. Musk expects pods in the test loop to reach near-supersonic speeds during the first test phase. In theory, speeds of up to 800 mph are possible in hyperloop travel.

There are problems with this method of travel, of course. Ask any fighter pilot about G-forces at those speeds. And travel in anything other than a straight line is problematic, for similar reasons.

Still, there are several test loops up and running now with more coming. And while we may never see hyperloop tubes connecting New York and Tokyo, it’s safe to assume that something new will emerge from all this research and work. And whatever that something is will probably have an impact on how freight is moved at some point.

The hyperloop is a timely reminder that there are grand projects underway all over the world today. And a great many of them involve freight logistics in one way or another. Laugh or sneer all you want to. But these projects will eventually bring change to your business in one way or another. And those changes will likely happen far faster than most people today anticipate.

So what can you do? Not much, at the moment admittedly. It’s pretty hard to get a step or two ahead of a guy like Elon Musk. That said, staying informed and simply adopting a mindset of embracing change – or at least giving it a fair hearing – when it comes, can put you several steps ahead of most people today. Including many of your competitors.

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Author Bio

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Jack Roberts

Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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