HTT sitrep June 2016 – running out of steam ?>

HTT sitrep June 2016 – running out of steam

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the crowdsourced entrant to the commercial hyperloop development market, is the leader in generating buzz.  Its chief rival recently changed its name from Hyperloop Technologies to Hyperloop One, Inc. to minimize the maddening similarly in their names.

HTT, as the company is often called, continues its prodigious production of announcements and press releases.  We are tracking the company’s announcements and doing a little fact-checking .  Last month’s situation report.

HTT is weaving a romantic story.  It’s a crowd-funded, crowdsourced “movement” run by two guys in a Quonset hut.  This video from April 2016 shows top secret mockups.  The number of engineers is stable at 520, but the value of donated real estate has gone up to $20 million.

With no updates on its website since March, and a slackening of new YouTubes in June, it appears HTT is running out of steam.

Vibranium

The Verge reported 24 May 2016 that HTT will build its Hyperloop capsules from vibranium.  The company’s press release describes it as a carbon-fiber composite developed in cooperation with C2i, a Slovak producer of composite auto parts.

In a video released by the company 24 May, vibranium is followed by a ™ symbol.  A check of the trademark office (http://www.uspto.gov) shows registion by neither HTT nor Marvel Comics in th U.S..

Aluminum Track

CNBC republished an HTT video 9 May that describes an aluminum tube.  Gresta is quoted as saying its design has “a passive levitation system [that] will eliminate the need for power stations along the Hyperloop track.”  Passive levitation does require power.  Technical discussion here.

Inductrack

The company announced in May an exclusive licensing deal with Lawrence Livermore Labs for the Inductrack passive magnetic levitation system.  It remains to be seen whether the deal is in fact exclusive to HTT.

No technical showstoppers

In an April presentation video focused on recruiting, CEO Dirk Ahlborn described the likelihood of spinoff technologies.  When asked about the biggest challenges the company faces, Ahlborn concentrated on land-use issues.  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 – Vienna hyperloop.

Plans to go public in 2016

In a March presentation, COO Bibop Gresta showed a video that said “the company plans to go public later this year … probably NASDAQ.”  He showed a slide that described the hyperloop speed as “760 mph per hour.”  That typo appears four times on the same slide.  A few slides further is a drawing of reinforced concrete pylons and a reinforced carbon fiber composite tube.  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.  He described riding in a hyperloop in 2019.  He said land worth $15 million had been given to the project.

Quay Valley

In January 2016, the company announced development of a Hyperloop Research Center, including a test track, in Quay Valley, CA.  The press release made specific claims, including:

  • “filing of construction permits”
  • “site preparation within the coming weeks”
  • “principle [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.  A planning document dated March 2016 describes the underlying land as still being zoned AG-40 agricultural.  A preliminary planning document  for the Hyperloop Research and Demonstration Center (HRDC) was filed with Kings County 5 February 2016.

The Quay Valley plan describes its 4.7-mile adjacency to Interstate 5 this way, “[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.”  “The 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.”  “The tubes would be mounted on reinforced concrete pylons 20 feet high spaced approximately 200 feet apart.”  The HRDC application descrbes the track as 350 ft east of the I-5 right-of way.

Four Hundred Core Team Members

In an August 2015 announcement, HTT said it had 400 core team members.  It described technology alliances with Sweden’s Oerlikon, AECOM, and Hodgetts + Fung.

Our Analysis

Given that Hyperloop One has already taken delivery of steel tube and demonstrated its propulsion system, HTT seems to have ceded first-mover advantage.  Nevertheless, Gresta and Alhborn are flying all over the world giving recruiting presentations.  Those presentations include assertions that are either intentionally misleading or demonstrate an incomplete grasp of the engineering challenges.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is benefiting by marketplace confusion of its work with that of its rival and that of Elon Musk, as demonstrated in this video.  When investment is no longer the realm of venture capital, the public needs to be very careful where it invests.

It is likely that HTT with a team of 520 engineers will produce technical innovations salable to other hyperloop developers, even if it loses the race to field a full-scale hyperloop.  It’s also 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.  If this is the case, then it’s a wonderful business model – a half-thousand engineers developing intellectual property at no cost to the company. If something great comes from it, great.  If nothing comes from it, no loss.  That’s not likely to be the case for retail investors, though.

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