This concept drawing shows how the Hyperloop concept of pod travel to move people and freight long distances at high speeds.  
 -  Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Camilo Sanchez

This concept drawing shows how the Hyperloop concept of pod travel to move people and freight long distances at high speeds. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Camilo Sanchez

Remember Otzi, the Iceman – the Stone Age mummy found on a mountain between Italy and Austria in 1991? The find was a treasure trove for researchers, giving us our best-ever look at what life was like for humans thousands of years ago.

One of the things scientists have discovered from analyzing the personal items found with Otzi is that he was a trader. He apparently made his living trucking trade goods back and forth across the mountains to various tribes that lived in the area.

And the find shows clearly that trade – and the associated movement of goods over long distances – is a fundamental feature in human civilizations around the world and has been since our earliest days. And, furthermore, trade and the movement of goods, has been a major driver in the adoption of new technology for our entire history.

All of which goes a long way toward explaining the massive tech wave coming at trucking, freight and global logistics today. In Otzi’s time, a long-haul trade route was a hard, weeks-long hump over some very severe mountains – a trip that can be easily made in a less than a day’s drive now. And that drive to trade only grew as human societies flourished. Flash forward a few thousand years, and tenuous trade tentacles were beginning to reach out all around the globe. Archeologists have uncovered Roman coins in Japan, for example, highlighting just how far ancient traders were able to reach with their goods.

But never before in our history has there been such a massive push for faster, more efficient trade and transportation. That’s because nations – and individuals – prosper by trading. So, if you think about it, a great deal of our technological advances over many millennia have been related to finding faster and more efficient ways to trade. It’s funny to think about it now, but there was a time when a simple rucksack or backpack was a major technological leap forward in logistics. Trade drove the development of sailing ships and pushed explorers to venture out farther and farther afield looking for new partners and goods. And trade definitely drove the growth automobiles and our roads and highway network.

We’re still looking for new and better ways to move goods. Which is why you’re hearing a lot of talk about the concept of the Hyperloop today. It’s kind of an odd name for a new transportation technology – and one that isn’t really self-descriptive, in my opinion. In reality, however, the concept is a fairly simple one.

The concept of humans being shot around future cities in clear tubes has been a comedic trope at least as far back as The Jetsons in the 1960s – and more recently in Futurama. And that’s the concept of the Hyperloop in a nutshell.

Hyperloop developers are proposing a network of large, tubes – sort of like a massively over-sized oil pipeline – that would crisscross the country and -- one day -- the entire planet.

The trick here is that the environment inside the actual Hyperloop tube itself is an artificially created vacuum along with transport pods which could accommodate either passengers or freight. Because there is no resistance of any type in a vacuum, these pods would be able to travel at stunningly fast speeds to any destination with a Hyperloop station. The pods themselves move in the tubes without making physical contact with any of its inner surfaces. Some versions propose using “air bearings,” which is a level of pressurized gas the pods float on. Other systems theorize using magnets to allow the pods to float inside the loop. In most models, the pods are propelled through the tubes with compressed air engine mounted at their rear. According to scientists, passenger pods in Hyperloop would be able to reach speeds of up to 760 mph in early versions. Freight pods would be able to travel even faster.

But all this is just theory, right?

Wrong. There is active Hyperloop research and development going on right now, with serious money and brilliant minds focused on making the technology a reality soon. Elon Musk is naturally involved. In fact, his SpaceX corporation actually conducted a highly successful Hyperloop test just before the public unveiling of the Tesla Semi Truck last fall. Additionally, Musk has proposed an initial Hyperloop line roughly following Interstate 5 to link Los Angeles and San Francisco that he says would allow travel between the cities in as little as 30 minute. Similar lines are being proposed in cities in the Mid-West, on the East Coast and around the globe.

And Hyperloop development projects seem to be growing at the speed of, well, a Hyperloop. Just this week, China invested $1 billion in Arrivo, a Los Angeles-based Hyperloop development firm. And on July 22nd, Musk’s SpaceX will be holding an open competition for university students to test their own Hyperloop concepts as a way of crowd-sourcing new and better ideas for the technology.

Obviously, your business is not going to be threatened by a Hyperloop freight network any time soon. All of these projects are in their very early research and development phases right now. And it stands to reason that the Hyperloop concept is more of a threat to railroads than the trucking industry. But, it is a timely reminder that there are still new ways and means to move people and freight out there. And brilliant minds are working on developing these stunning new technologies as I type this. Your world and your business will change as a result of these efforts. The only questions are when, and how much.

Related: A Fatal Vision of the Autonomous Vehicle Future

Originally posted on Trucking Info

About the author
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

Executive Editor

Jack Roberts is known for reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

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