Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the crowdsourced entrant to the commercial hyperloop development market, is the leader in generating buzz.Â Its chief rival changed its name from Hyperloop Technologies to Hyperloop One, Inc. to minimize the maddening similarity in their names.
HTT, the crowd-funded, crowdsourced â€œmovementâ€, continues its prodigious production of announcements and press releases.Â We are tracking the companyâ€™s announcements and doing a little fact-checking.Â Last monthâ€™s situation report.
The company story is compelling.Â This month, HTT got a fifty-minute interview with Cenk Uygur on his show, The Young Turks.Â Uygur, appropriately skeptical, bantered with straight man Dirk Ahlborn, CEO, and Bibop Gresta, the wild-eyed COO.Â HTTâ€™s success with the press is indisputable. Â TYT gets 1.4 million YouTube views per day.Â CNBC also covers HTT on a regular basis.
Pipe dream or fifth mode of transportation?
Elon Muskâ€™s other ideas, PayPal, SpaceX, the Tesla automobile, and SolarCity were originally poo-poohed, but each has achieved success.Â In the case of Hyperloop, Muskâ€™s white paper has spawned three commercial enterprises and over a hundred academic teams proposing designs.
Thirty of those academic teams have been invited to test their capsules in August 2016 at a mile long test track being built across the street from the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne CA.Â This will be a milestone event, with the builder AECOMâ€™s demonstration of a working tube, and the demonstration of scholar-built capsules.
In the meantime, HTTâ€™s competitor, Hyperloop One demonstrated the linear motor required to propel a capsule in a May demonstration in the Nevada desert.Â HTT showed off mockups in this April 2016 video.Â Whether HTT shows at the January 2-17Â competition remains to be seen.
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.
Carbon fiber composite is the logical material for the capsule shell.Â Boeing and Airbus use the material.Â So have many of the academic teams building capsules in preparations for an August 2016 competition to be held at a test track being built at the SpaceX Hawthorne, CA headquarters.
No technical showstoppers
In an April presentation video focused on recruiting, CEO Dirk Ahlborn described the likelihood of spinoff technologies. Â When asked about the biggest challenges the company faces, Ahlborn 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 issues.
Tube and Track Options
The company announced in May an exclusive licensing deal with Lawrence Livermore Labs for the Inductrack passive magnetic levitation system.Â It remains to be seen whether the deal is in fact exclusive to HTT.
CNBC republished an HTT video 9 May that describes an aluminum tube.Â Gresta is quoted as saying its design has â€œa passive levitation system [that] will eliminate the need for power stations along the Hyperloop track.â€
In a June post, we looked at the power requirements of the Hyperloop.
Safety remains a big question.Â HTT says, â€œBy design, at least in our case, itâ€™s ten times safer than an airplane.â€Â This statement stands in opposition to the history of the automobile and airline, both of which suffered substantial fatalities for their first half century until 1972, when fatalities in both modes began to decrease.
Puitting passengers in a pressurized capsule inside a vaccum tube brings no small risk.Â We looked at the challenges in this March post.
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 Now that weâ€™re in July, that is unlikely.
In January 2016, the company announced development of a Hyperloop Research Center, including a test track, in Quay Valley, CA.Â The press release described â€œconstruction beginning by the end of 2nd quarter 2016.Â That date has come and gone. Â In July, Gresta promised a hyperloop in Quay Valley â€œthirty-eight months after the conditional permit is approved.â€
Five Hundred Forty Team Members
In an August 2015 announcement, HTT described technology alliances with Swedenâ€™s Oerlikon, AECOM, and Hodgetts + Fung. Â In June 2016, the team announced an expansion of its partner team to include Lufthansa Innovations, Deutsche Bahn D.Lab, Startupbootcamp, Towercom, Anext, Amazon Web Services, Five by Five, Campus Party, IBM, and Catalysts CC to create a digital environment to support travel.
Given that Hyperloop One has already 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 overly optimistic 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.Â When investment is no longer the realm of venture capital, the public it comes time to invest in
It is likely that HTT with a team of 540 engineers will produce technical innovations salable to other hyperloop developers, even if it loses the race to field a full-scale hyperloop.Â Itâ€™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.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. Â If something great comes from it, great.Â If nothing comes from it, no loss.