Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the crowdsourced entrant to the commercial hyperloop development market, is the leader in generating buzz. Â Its chief rival recently changed its name to Hyperloop One, Inc. from Hyperloop Technologies to minimize the maddening similarly in their names.
HTT, as the company is often called, has been a prodigious producer of announcements and press releases.Â We reviewed recent announcements to see how accurate the companyâ€™s predictions have turned out.
The Verge reported 24 May 2016 that HTT will build its Hyperloop capsules from vibranium. Â The companyâ€™s press release describes it as a carbon-fiber composite developed in cooperation with C2i, a Slovak producer of composite auto parts.
The company announced in May an exclusive licensing deal with Lawrence Livermore Labs for the Inductrack passive magmatic levitation system. Â It remains to be seen whether the deal is in fact exclusive to HTT.
No technical showstoppers
In an April presentation focused on recruiting, CEO Dirk Ahlborn described the likelihood of spinoff technologies. Â When asked about the biggest challenges the company faces, Alhborn concentrated on land-use issues. Â He said there were no technical showstoppers, but he avoided discussing the topics others have pointed out will require significant work, like track geometry and its effect on human comfort, earthquake resistance, capsule environment, and safety isses.
Slovakia Exploratory Agreement
In March, the company announced an agreement with the government of Slovakia to explore options for a Bratislava â€“ Vienna hyperloop.
Plans to go public in 2016
In a March presentation, COO Bibop Gresta showed a video that said â€œthe company plans to go public later this year â€¦ probably NASDAQ.â€ Â He showed a slide that described the hyperloop speed as â€œ760 mph per hour.â€ Â That typo appears four times on the same slide. Â A few slides further is a drawing of reinforced concrete pylons and a reinforced carbon fiber composite tube. Â This is a significant departure from the direction taken by Hyperloop One and Spacex, both of which are using steel pipe for the guideway.
Five Hundred Twenty Team Members
In a January 2016 interview, Gresta described a crowdsourced team of 520 engineers. Â He described riding in a hyperloop in 2019. Â He said land worth $15 million had been given to the project.
In January 2016, the company announced development of a Hyperloop Research Center, including a test track, in Quay Valley, CA. Â The press release made specific claims, including:
- â€œfiling of construction permitsâ€
- â€œsite preparation within the coming weeksâ€
- â€œprinciple [sic] construction beginning by the end of 2nd quarter 2016″
- “Everyone traveling on California’s I-5 in 2016 will be able to see our activities from the freeway.”
The community of Quay Valley is still in the proposal phase. Â A planning document dated March 2016 describes the underlying land as still being zoned AG-40 agricultural.Â It goes on to say that planning documents for the Hyperloop Research Facility will follow.
The Quay Valley plan describes its 4.7-mile adjacency to Interstate 5 this way, â€œ[T]he current Land Use Plan places 250 feet of open space and agricultural buffers on each side of I-5 and between other intense land uses such as industrial and entertainment, and residential.â€ Â â€œThe Interstate 5 project area interface is planned to be lined with permanent tree crop and grapevines to soften the transition for travelers driving along the freeway.â€
Specifically, â€œthe tubes would be mounted on reinforced concrete pylons 20 feet high spaced approximately 200 feet apart.â€
Four Hundred Core Team Members
Given that Hyperloop One has already taken delivery of steel tube and demonstrated its propulsion system, HTT seems to have ceded first-mover advantage. Â Nevertheless, Gresta and Alhborn are flying all over the world giving recruiting presentations. Â Those presentations include assertions that are either intentionally misleading or demonstrate an incomplete grasp of the engineering challenges.
It is not unlikely that with a team of 520 engineers it will produce technical innovations salable to other hyperloop developers, even if it loses the race to field a full-scale hyperloop. Â Itâ€™s likely that as part of the HTT employment/stock option agreement, the team member agrees to confidentiality and to turn over all intellectual property rights to HTT. Â If this is the case, then itâ€™s a wonderful business model â€“ a half-thousand engineers developing intellectual property at no cost to the company. If something great comes from it, great.Â If nothing comes from it, no loss.