Mumbai: In 2012, Elon Musk revived an interest in pneumatic tube transportation system and named it hyperloop, a proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation that would propel a pod-like vehicle through a near-vacuum tube at greater than airline speed.
The concept generated a lot of interest, with many people deciding to work on the project. One of the top contenders for demonstrating this technology is Hyperloop One, which was founded in 2014 in Los Angeles. In an interview, the company’s chief executive officer Rob Lloyd and senior vice-president global field operations Nick Earle talk about what brings them to India.
What brings you to India?
Lloyd: The potential in India is one of the reasons we are here. We haven’t spent much time here yet because from our experience when you come to India you better be prepared to invest, spend time and do a good job and not just show up and come back sometime later.
So, we have been spending most of our time in validating some of the concepts in engineering, bringing the company to a certain point. Just now we are actually ready to say that it is probably one of the best examples on how this technology can be used in transformation of the way to align with the objectives of the government and do everything that is in consistent with Indian government policy. Make and manufacture in India, in addition to vibrant IT sector infrastructure that has existed here. Build new jobs and create new models of cities.
As the population continues to urbanize over next 50 years, we would need different ways to move inside and between the cities. This would need to redefine a city when you connect cities that are 200km apart. You live in one and you work in another.
Earle: We did analysis of which countries of the world would have highest potential, and three regions were shortlisted – Middle East, North America and India. Reasons for that are because the primary driver about this is large number of population, infrastructure is not as good as it should be.
The world is still debating whether hyperloop is still at an experimental stage. Is this the right time for a developing country like India to invest in it?
Lloyd: We are gonna prove the technology in the next few months. So you can see hyperloop moving. Now, how do we change the concept into a commercial opportunity? The country which adopts the technology first is going to have a whole ecosystem built around. There is a whole new industry that needs to be built around this new mode of transportation. The Germans, Japanese and Koreans have done high-speed railways.
The question is which country is going to be able optimize large investment in infrastructure and also drive the innovation and transformation going on in transportation. We can alleviate some traffic challenges. Think of a country that can leapfrog in technology and build an ecosystem of leading firms around that.
We are perfectly fine if someone tells us that we have to see the technology first. We are hearing countries are competing right now to be the first.
Earle: India doesn’t need studies. Our approach is we’ll prove it, we’ll raise hundreds of billions of dollars and when we prove it and then we bring it to the country. There is a lot of confusion in the Indian press about the companies working on Hyperloop. We are in the business of doing infrastructure, engineering, working on hard concept and owning the intellectual property rights. Does India need science project theory or the live project?
What kind of approach will you take for India?
Earle: Step I—build it, prove it. Step II—bring central government and state government representatives to Vegas to show them. Step III—we need to have some suggestive routes that we have probably got in the global challenge. Step IV is to actually start negotiations with business community in India and the government. Hyperloop will provide much more cost benefit than high-speed rails.
Lloyd: We can go into city without disturbing the city. We can go underground and no need for government to buy land. India is going to build a lot of smart cities, say for example between Delhi and Mumbai from where you can get into Delhi or Mumbai in 30 minutes. We are looking at both inter-city and intra-city transportation concept for India.