How many hurdles stand in the way of hyperloops becoming a commercial reality?
- Hyperloops are a new type of transportation technology that involves vacuum tubes and passenger pods traveling at ultra-fast speeds.
- Although no commercial hyperloops exist yet, a handful of companies around the world are building test tracks, some in partnerships with national governments.
- Hyperloops could prove to be a faster and more environmentally sustainable form of transportation than flying and high-speed rail, though many obstacles remain.
Artist rendering of Virgin Hyperloop passenger pod
Virgin Hyperloop<p>Hyperloop companies, which would be overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration, would also have to sort out issues related to <a href="https://www.railwaygazette.com/dont-believe-the-hype-about-hyperloop/46126.article" target="_blank">headway</a>, maintaining a vacuum in the tubes, emergency exits, government regulations, <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03081060.2020.1828935" target="_blank">passenger capacity</a> and the simple possibility that people might not want to shoot through a vacuum tube at 600 mph.</p><p>(On that note: It's unlikely that hyperloops would reach average speeds of 600 mph because the pods would need to accelerate and decelerate at slower speeds for safety and comfort reasons.)</p>
Virgin Hyperloop<p>But hyperloop technology is moving forward. In July, the U.S. government published a policy document intended to serve as a regulatory "<a href="https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/us-transportation-secretary-chao-releases-pathways-future-transportation" target="_blank">roadmap</a>" for hyperloop companies seeking to test their technology in the country. Virgin recently announced plans to build a $500 million <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/8/21507532/virgin-hyperloop-one-certification-center-west-virginia" target="_blank">"certification center" in West Virginia</a>, where the company will test future versions of its hyperloops, aiming to get government approval.</p><p>Virgin plans to build its first operational hyperloop in India, whose government has been in talks with the company since 2017. While still in the planning stages, the company hopes to have a commercial hyperloop up and running in India by around 2030.</p>
Underground tunnel built by the Boring Company
Boring Company<p>Virgin isn't alone in the hyperloop space. For example, there's Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is working on test projects in the United Arab Emirates, France, and Germany, where the company aims to move cargo through hyperloops. The company said it hopes to open its <a href="https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/hyperloop-transportation-technologies-commercial-service-2022/546820/" target="_blank">first commercial operation by 2022.</a></p><p><a href="https://hardt.global/" target="_blank">Hardt Global Mobility</a>, a Dutch hyperloop startup, hopes to build a 10,000-kilometer network of hyperloops throughout Europe. Meanwhile, Elon Musk's Boring Company is building underground tunnels designed for cars traveling short distances. But the company <a href="https://www.boringcompany.com/faq" target="_blank">says</a> its tunnels "are designed and built in preparation for their eventual transition to Hyperloop."</p>Some critics of hyperloop technology say it's a <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/2016/05/10/159479/the-unbelievable-reality-of-the-impossible-hyperloop/" target="_blank">"utopian vision"</a> that's unlikely to pan out, while others note that hyperloops would essentially be maglev trains, but more expensive and faster (because the vacuum tube reduces drag). But if successful, hyperloops could not only decrease travel times, but also become a more sustainable form of transportation, <a href="https://www.constructionweekonline.com/projects-and-tenders/261881-zero-emission-powered-virgin-hyperloop-one-can-run-unplugged" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">potentially magnitudes more efficient than high-speed rail and flying.</a>
The electric car manufacturer says updates to its battery design and manufacturing process will help lower production costs.
- The high cost of batteries is the main reason why electric vehicles cost more than gas-powered cars.
- At the company's 'Battery Day' event on Tuesday, Tesla announced a new battery design that will give its cars more power and a longer range.
- The success of Tesla's plan depends on its ability to scale up production.
Screenshot of Tesla's 'Battery Day' presentation
Tesla<p>It's unclear when Tesla will stop using cobalt, or when it will stop sourcing its batteries from Panasonic. But Tesla claims that its new battery design and manufacturing changes will allow it to cut the cost per kilowatt-hour in half. If Tesla can successfully scale up production, the company could hit its goal of $100 per kilowatt-hour sooner than expected.</p><p>Hitting that mark could usher in the electric-car revolution, considering $100 per kilowatt-hour is <a href="https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/How-Soon-Can-Tesla-Get-Battery-Cell-Cost-Below-100-per-Kilowatt-Hour" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">generally regarded as the threshold</a> the industry needs to reach in order to make electric vehicles cost competitive with gas-powered cars. </p><p>A $25,000 electric car would also be Tesla's cheapest offering by far. The company had previously promised a $35,000 car, but only offered one at that price for a limited time. Tesla's website says its Model 3, its cheapest car, starts at about <a href="https://www.industryweek.com/leadership/article/22027923/tesla-declines-as-model-3-price-cut-renews-demand-concerns" target="_blank">$39,000.</a></p>
Photo of Tesla's new battery design
Tesla<p>To be sure, Musk is known for promising big on his projects, but not always following through on the promised timetable. But despite having an "insanely hard" 2020, as Musk said, Tesla's had a good past couple years.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In 2019, we had 50% growth," Musk said at the event. "And I think we'll do really pretty well in 2020, probably somewhere between 30 to 40 percent growth, despite a lot of very difficult circumstances."</p>
"It's kind of like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires," Musk said.
- Neuralink is Elon Musk's company that's building brain-machine interfaces.
- The company's ultimate goal is to build an interface that connects human brains directly to computers.
- At a demonstration on Friday, Musk unveiled the company's latest progress, including that it had successfully installed its interface in the skulls of multiple pigs.
Neuralink implanted a chip inside the skull of pig<p>At the demonstration were three pigs in pens. One pig, named Gertrude, has been living healthily for two months with the implant in its skull, according to Musk. As Gertrude snuffled around the pen, a screen displayed real-time spikes in neural activity coming from the pig's brain.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We have a healthy and happy pig, initially shy but obviously high energy and, you know, kind of loving life, and she's had the implant for two months," Musk said.</p><p>The coin-sized implant was read-only, meaning Gertrude wasn't using it to control any device. But the demo showed that the implant was capable of wirelessly relaying neural data to external computers. What's more, a pre-recorded video unveiled at the event showed that Neuralink was able to predict the pig's limb movements with "high accuracy" during a treadmill experiment.</p><p>Musk also said Neuralink had implanted a chip into another pig, Dorothy, and then removed it without health complications.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What Dorothy illustrates is that you can put in the Neuralink, remove it, and be healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig," Musk said.</p>
Illustration of Neuralink implant.
Neuralink could enable people to replay memories<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The future is going to be weird," Musk said. "In the future you will be able to save and replay memories [...] You could basically store your memories as a backup and restore the memories. You could potentially download them into a new body or into a robot body."<br></p><p>Sound unnerving? Musk sort of agreed:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is increasingly sounding like a Black Mirror episode," Musk said, referring to the dystopian TV show.</p>
Neuralink wants robots to install the interface on humans<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU5NzQyNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MTIzODg2MX0.Im2rQXegK_X9L_Pa35oXU68i7EnuIZ81y63WxU_QW0E/img.jpg?width=980" id="06cd6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="72cc0cdd6547966b23a31e78c7eaa5a3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bThe location of a Neuralink implant in a human skull." data-width="1366" data-height="768" />
The location of a Neuralink implant in a human skull.
Credit: Neuralink / Big Think<p>Musk said Neuralink eventually wants to use a surgical robot to install the interfaces into human skulls. Neuralink has so far used robots to implant all of its chips, but these experiments have been limited to rodents, monkeys and pigs, according to Musk.<br></p><p>Neuralink hasn't revealed how much the procedure might cost for humans in the future. Musk said it'll be "quite expensive" at first, but hopes the price will eventually drop to a few thousand dollars.</p><p>"I think it should be possible to get it similar to Lasik," he said.</p><p>Of course, Neuralink still faces many safety concerns and regulatory hurdles. But in July, the company received FDA <a href="https://www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/breakthrough-devices-program" target="_blank">Breakthrough Device designation</a>, which expedites approval for technologies "that provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions."</p><p>The next major step for the company will be demonstrating that its technology works safely and effectively in humans. In 2019, Musk said he hopes to begin human testing by the end of 2020, though it's unclear whether that'll happen.</p>
Just how close are we to setting up camp on another planet? It's complicated.
- We are closer than ever to actually putting human beings on Mars, but exactly how close is very much still up for debate. Getting there is one thing, and we eventually may not have a choice, but there are a number of problems that need to be solved before our species can call the Red Planet home.
- In this video, former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, educator Bill Nye, science journalist Stephen Petranek, astronomer Michelle Thaller, and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku consider mankind's fascination with Mars and explain why the planet may be the most viable option for colonization. They also share difficult truths about what it will take for this expensive dream to become a reality.
- From finding a way to protect against radiation and adjusting to the difference in atmospheric pressure, to mining for ice and transporting food, to significantly lowering the cost of space travel, it certainly won't be easy. But that doesn't mean that it's not worth doing. As Leland Melvin says, the spirit of exploration and curiosity is in our DNA.
Some of the world's top minds weigh in on one of the most divisive questions in tech.
- When it comes to the question of whether AI is an existential threat to the human species, you have Elon Musk in one corner, Steven Pinker in another, and a host of incredible minds somewhere in between.
- In this video, a handful of those great minds—Elon Musk, Steven Pinker, Michio Kaku, Max Tegmark, Luis Perez-Breva, Joscha Bach and Sophia the Robot herself—weigh in on the many nuances of the debate and the degree to which AI is a threat to humanity; if it's not a species-level threat, it will still upend our world as we know it.
- What's your take on this debate? Let us know in the comments!