LOOPY HEIGHTS

Dubai 2017 | TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS | FOCUS: HYPERLOOP

Dubai has agreed upon a deal with US start-up Hyperloop One to evaluate the construction of a near-supersonic transport link that could slash travel times between Dubai and Abu Dhabi to minutes

After a visit to Dubai, Silicon Valley's Hyperloop One is one step closer to building a transportation system that can transport goods and passengers at speeds of up to 760mph (1,223kph) using vacuum and magnet technology. If the construction goes ahead, it would mean a 10-minute journey between Dubai and Fujairah, and another 11 minutes to get from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, with neighboring Riyadh a short 45 minutes away.

In November 2016, Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) signed an agreement with Hyperloop One to do a feasibility study for the project. The decision was part of a carry-over from the Dubai Future Accelerators program and aims to leverage new technologies in schemes and products that will benefit society. Hyperloop One's CEO, Rob Lloyd, believes that the vacuum-sealed pod transportation system can cost as much as 62% less than high-speed rail systems, and from a technological point of view could be built within the next five years.
Dubai has adopted the old adage that “if you want to find out the benefits of technology, invest, develop, and implement.” With that notion, DP World has put up a USD50 million loan to bring a prototype online and explore the possibilities of utilizing the technology for cargo transport to a dry dock. This will see Hyperloop One's total funding hit USD160 million, and see DP World's Chairman & CEO, Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, sit on the board for Hyperloop One.

The brainchild of Elon Musk, the Hyperloop technology works by magnetically suspending a capsule and running it through de-pressurized tubes. Removing the amount of air resistance on the capsule allows it to reach Mach speed. The design has been taken on by America's UCLA, which has grappled with the idea of developing stations and designing the pod's interior, as well as integrating new terminals and systems into densely populated cities. Speaking early in 2016 at the World Government Summit in Dubai, ex-Hyperloop One CTO Brogan Bambrogan stated that the possibilities for theHyperloop are endless and that both transnational and international opportunities are being explored.

There are many concerns about the safety of travelling at such high speeds, and the proposed solution has been to remove the space for human error. Two other aspects allow the designers to create near-absolute safety; the fact that the pods run on an entirely closed system removes the need to cater for changing weather conditions, and the first-of-its-kind design also allows designers to create a totally safe transport environment, rather than adapting an existing system. This will be manifest in Hyperloop One's Proof of Operations Facility, which would see the company create a stripped-down version of the Hyperloop along an intended track, allowing local regulators to work with designers to ensure safety requirements before going fully operational. The company says the system offers better safety than passenger jets, lower build and maintenance costs than high-speed trains, and energy usage per person that is similar to a bicycle. Musk is not directly involved in the project, either through finance or management, in either of the two companies that are responsible for developing the system, with Hyperloop Transport Technologies (HTT) also developing systems. That said, Musk and SpaceX remain interested in developing the technology, and in January 2017, will run an open competition for pod design. Hyperloop One is looking at designs in which autonomous pods will be called by passengers to carry them to the terminal and seamlessly connect into the larger capsule that will transport the passengers and cargo to a final destination. November's announcement means that DP World Group is joining French national rail company SNCF, US industrial conglomerate General Electric, and Russian state fund RDIF as backers, and it looks like the Emirate will be the first to benefit from this new means of transportation, keeping the region at the forefront of transport technology and innovation.