In 1851, visitors to the world’s first international fair, in London, arrived by purpose-built steam railway.
When Expo 2020 Dubai opens its doors, transport innovation will again be at the forefront. A segment of the world’s first commercial Hyperloop will be built in Al Ghadeer in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, near the Expo site.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT) will begin building the line – which ideally will be the first segment in connecting the region. “We are bringing the future of mobility to the UAE,” says its Co-Founder and Chairman, Bibop Gresta.
Gresta outlined his plans at the Tech Mix Day event organised jointly by Intesa Sanpaolo, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Roland Berger in Dubai.
First publicly outlined by the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2013, Hyperloop uses magnetic levitation and a linear induction motor combined with a tube environment in which air has been drastically reduced to allow the capsules to move at high speed with nearly zero friction. Gresta says: “You can move a passenger capsule from A to B at almost the speed of sound using a relatively small amount of energy.”
HyperloopTT is one of several companies working with experts around the world in pursuit of this new form of transport. “We have created a technology which is actually quite simple in terms of the physics, but which is also revolutionary,” Gresta explains. “Hyperloop will transform the way we conceive distance.”
HyperloopTT has government agreements in Slovakia, UAE, Czech Republic, France, Indonesia, Korea, India, United States, Brazil, Ukraine, and China. “This is real. It is not just theory,” he says.
“We can give time back. It is one of the most valuable currencies we have. When you recoup the hours spent in traffic, life gets better”
Bibop Gresta, chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
Allowing people to live and work in different places, with greater access to quality of life and affordable housing, is one of many social benefits Gresta foresees. “We can give time back. It is one of the most valuable currencies we have. When you recoup the hours spent stuck in traffic, life gets better.”
The environmental impact of Hyperloop is much less harmful than that of existing systems. It operates using renewable energy, Gresta points out, and is almost silent because it operates in a near vacuum environment. “It is completely sustainable,” he says.
Transport of the future should create rather than simply consume, he says. Design features in the Hyperloop include a desalination system to make clean water, HD bandwidth, and the possibility of redistributing surplus energy back into the grid.
The structure will change the environment through which it passes – by elevated tubes rather than more expensive and invasive underground ones – but it should not destroy it through emissions. “This is the canal of the future,” Gresta suggests.
Engineers believe that eventually Hyperloop systems could reach 1,200km/h. This is not Gresta’s focus though. “We are creating a system that is not only the fastest way to move on the ground, but more importantly that is also the most efficient and the safest.”
Over the past five years, the company has been working on regulatory frameworks analysis. The leading reinsurer Munich Re has deemed the project safe and insurable.
From a cost point of view, Gresta explains that the location is critical. Building in the desert obviously costs less than building through mountains.
“The most interesting question is actually how long it takes to recoup the cost,” he adds. “In the case of a high-speed rail or an underground the answer is ‘never’. They require huge subsidies because the structures are too expensive to build and maintain and they are meant as a public service.”
By contrast, HyperloopTT expects to recoup investment within 8-15 years, depending on location. “Modern infrastructure should help to create wealth and grow countries rather than create a black hole.”
Hyperloop has detractors, who suggest the science may be theoretical and that safety, comfort and cost may cause problems. “We are at version one in a system which will evolve,” Gresta says – but it is already proven feasible today and with the UN projecting a world population of 9.7 billion by 2050, innovation is urgent.
“Transportation is one of the biggest problems we face. Cars sit empty or in traffic. This is not scalable nor functional. We have based our planet’s economy on limited resources,” he says. “This is wrong.”
His vision is for a new generation of efficient and sustainable cities. “Hyperloop will help bring that vision to fruition,” he says. “I believe we are part of a new renaissance of science and creativity. I can’t wait to be the first passenger.”
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