The future of transportation

Picutre of the HyperloopTechnology has improved tremendously over the past 100 years. It saw the birth of computers, television, mobile phones, and many other life-altering technologies. Despite this, people still travel in the same four ways they did 100 years ago: plane, boat, car, and train. Transportation has only seen upgrades to its old four major modes without any new additions [1]. That all could change with Hyperloop, the supposed fifth major mode of transportation. Heavily inspired by the concept of a vactrain (vacuum tube train), Hyperloop’s design aims to minimize the two major limitations on high-speed rail, friction and drag. Eliminating these factors could allow a Hyperloop pod to reach speeds of over 1100 km/h. A drive from Toronto to Montreal takes approximately five and a half hours by car and one hour and ten minutes by plane [2]. With Hyperloop, the same trip would take a mere 30 minutes [3].

What is Hyperloop?

Elon Musk describes Hyperloop as a “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table” [4]. It has the high-speed close to that of a Concorde (supersonic commercial plane), utilizes elements of maglev like a railgun, and rides above the track using air pressure like an air hockey table. Hyperloop pods travel in a low-pressure (near vacuum level) tube.

The Tube

Picture of the tube of the HyperloopThe Hyperloop pod travels inside a sealed tube. The tube can be built both above and below ground. Most tubes will run along major highways only deviating to avoid making sharp turns. When near private property Hyperloop offers little disruption. Elon Musk compares the track’s disruption to that of a power line or tree [5]. Hyperloop tubes are built on pylons (as seen on the left) with built-in dampeners to mitigate the risk of an earthquake damaging the track.

Theoretically, the tube should be a complete vacuum to achieve optimal efficiency and the highest speed. However, maintaining a complete vacuum would create safety risks since a small leak or crack anywhere in the tube would break the whole system [5]. Thus, a low-pressure tube is used. When any object travels through a tube at high enough speeds, it will cause air pressure to buildup in front of the object. The faster the object travels the more air that catches in front of it. The pod design considers this. 

The Pod

Picture of the pod of the HyperloopCompanies and student teams have designed many different pods. All pods rely on the same basic principles. The pod design should keep the tube as cost efficient as possible by handling the levitation/suspension, propulsion, and deceleration. Some pod designs use an air bearing suspension (like an air hockey table) system to prevent friction while other use a magnetic field to achieve the same result. The pod accelerates and decelerates using an external linear electric motor that propels the pod without coming into contact with a surface [5]. This is the same motor used for maglev trains.

When an object travels through a tube at high speeds, air pressure on the object builds up exponentially for an increase in speed. The pod design considers this. As seen in the picture above, an induction fan at the front of the pod actively mitigates built-up air pressure. In turn, the fan creates the air bearing suspension system. The pod design is aerodynamic to reduce drag to minimal amounts. Despite operating in near-vacuum conditions, air resistance is still a major factor when travelling speeds close to 1100 km/h.


Picutre of Waterloop students with Elon MuskThe University of Waterloo has their very own Hyperloop team. They created prototype Hyperloop pods to compete with opposing teams from other schools. With over 50 members organized into sub-categories such as marketing, mechanical, finance, web design, and more [3]. There is a position for students of all different faculties on this team. In the last two years the team has been chosen to participate in the annual Hyperloop pod competition at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.This males UWaterloo one of the 24 teams world wide to be chosen [3]. The team is currently taking a yearlong break from competing to design “Goose III”, their latest and greatest prototype.

Future Outlooks

Companies involved in Hyperloop are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for development, granting the abilitiy to scale up from computer simulation tests to real-life prototype Hyperloop pods in test-purposed tubes. A Hyperloop focused company, Virgin Hyperloop One , began testing in 2017 and is now completing full-scale tests in their 500-meter long test track. Multiple other companies are planning to begin testing soon (as of 2018) [6]. In recognition of the potential in Hyperloop technology, the state of California has considerably scaled back plans to implement a high-speed rail system across the state. The technology is becoming more than just a pipe dream. With competitions held between universities along with multiple start-up companies, the momentum towards Hyperloop is beginning to take off. Only the future will tell what is next for Hyperloop.


[1]‘Hyperloop Explained’ Hyperloop one, hyperloop-one.com/hyperloop-explained.

[2]Google maps, google.com/maps.

[3] ‘Canada’s Hyperloop’ Waterloop, teamwaterloop.ca.

[4] ‘Tesla CEO and SpaceX Founder Elon Musk: The Full D11 Interview (Video)’ All ThingsD, allthingsd.com/20130530/tesla-ceo-and-spacex-founder-elon-musk-the-full-d11-interview-video.

[5] ‘Hyperloop Alpha’ Spacex, spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/hyperloop_alpha.pdf.

[6]’Top Ten Reasons to Join Waterloop’ Waterloop, medium.com/waterloop/top-ten-reasons-to-join-waterloop-70696f9f0545.