The Hyperloop is set to completely change how we get from A to B. The need for speed in modern living is more imperative than ever, and this new form of travel will revolutionise the transport industry through innovation and design.

With the noise around this futuristic form of transportation comes the doubts on whether the design is actually feasible or practical. Theoretical discussions on travelling upwards of 1,000km/hr are one thing, seeing it in action is another.

UnSUBURBIA has taken a look into this new concept of transport and the design aspects associated with introducing it.

The brainwave and the backer

In 2013, Elon Musk made the announcement that we need to reassess the design blueprint of public transport. He believed that a system could be created where we travel at ridiculously high-speeds, either above or underneath our cities, on a transport connection powered by magnetic levitation in a low-pressure tube. This fifth form of transport was called the Hyperloop.

It was met with a mixture of scepticism and intrigue. Could we really travel hundreds of miles in a matter of minutes? The designs release suggested so, the theory suggested so, and one of the world leaders in tech and innovation, Musk himself, believed so.

Musk found himself an extremely wealthy backer too – Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin. Branson claimed that Hyperloop systems could be as revolutionary as the introduction of steam trains in the 20th century – a bold, and rather brave, statement to make on an idea that is still at large based on hypothetical thoughts and theory, rather than practicality.

The first Hyperloop project was conceptually designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). BIG unveiled its designs for a high-speed transportation system in Dubai, which is to feature pods that travel at “near supersonic speed”, with a route between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Virgin Hyperloop One has already announced the preliminary agreement with the Indian state of Maharashtra to build a super-fast rail network between the cities of Pune and Mumbai, shaving three hours off a journey undertaken by 150 million passengers a year.

Futurist speeds, futuristic design

The design of the Hyperloop is integral to its speed, efficiency and functionality. However, the process of design has two considerations – being above or underground.

For high-speeds, streamlining is needed. The shuttles which will transport the passengers have curvaceous shelled bodies, almost like a bullet to be able to withstand and move at the projected speeds. One concept by Priestmangoode, the Quintero One, shows a 32-metre long sleek capsule, which would accommodate up to 40 passengers. They’ll be made from a new carbon fibre-based smart material that is eight times stronger than aluminium, as well as being around five times lighter than steel.

Virgin’s ‘pods’ will carry up to 10 passengers, and have a ultra-modern aesthetic about them, almost giving the sense that you’re in a space ship, rather than a super-fast train. It also plans gold and silver class ratings, much like the first and second seen in today’s transport.

The Hyperloop is being designed with the environment in mind too. On the routes the system will follow in Maharashtra, there will be a predicted reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of as much as 150,000 tonnes per year. It’s also set to be solar powered, cutting out the need for fossil fuels.

Yet with such an extravagant project of creating a Hyperloop comes a significant cost of the overall design. In LA, it’s predicted that adding 2.5 miles onto its subway system would cost $1bn per mile based on proposed expansion to the city’s underground – so creating a submersed Hyperloop between LA and, say, Las Vegas, would be a financial nightmare. And the only way to reduce costs is to lessen the overall design, which means narrower tunnels and fewer shuttles, ultimately leading to lower passenger numbers.

For an over ground use, designers have so far only been seen to place the Hyperloop onto a raised bridge platform running alongside roads or above cities. Yet urban and inner-city design dictates this concept is far from feasible in major and built-up areas. The blueprints for sure need re-evaluating.

Keeping Europe in the loop

Discussions have also begun on how a Hyperloop system can be brought to the European continent, with the conceptual designs already being showcased for how major cities could facilitate a Hyperloop station.

UNStudio unveiled its vision for a series of adaptable and modular “Stations of the Future”, meaning the designs can be expanded or amended to fit into differing locations. The aim is to have the same design in all major European cities, so an initial roll out would be effortless, compared to creating varying blueprints for the stations for each place.

The conceptual designs included smaller stations for much tighter urban locations, medium-sized commuter stations, large transport hubs, and models of how existing transport facilities can be adapted. All have the same design style and template – it’s a loop, so all the stations need to have the look and feel as if they are one entity. UNStudio’s vision of having curved stations with no straight lines in sight is a reference to the Hyperloop itself and to give the structures an “inviting organic form to soften the geometry of the module”.

The aim is to have a design that pay homage to the local environment whilst seamlessly integrating into the urban architectural landscape. On paper, it sounds an efficient model – replicating the blueprint across the continent. Yet with differing design aesthetics in the majority of major European, achieving this would be an arduous ask.

Will we see hyper-design in the UK?

The potential speeds that a Hyperloop transport network could bring to the UK is unfathomable. According to Virgin Hyperloop One, a journey from Leeds to London on this high-speed connection would take as little as 24 minutes and could reach speeds of up to 1,080km/hr. When compared to current rail times (2h 8 mins) and driving (3h 15 mins), the Hyperloop seems as if it wouldn’t be out of place in a utopian science fiction world rather than in 21st century Britain.

The efficiency of this transport design is predicted to be outrageous too. For every million passengers, 152 years (or 1.3 million hours) will be saved against using other, much slower forms of transport. The figures are absolutely astounding – the idea of travelling to London in less than half an hour would connect the North and the South like never before, it becomes a commutable distance.

Yet, on an island like the UK, the practicalities of building and implementing a system design such as this would be a herculean task. Our current infrastructure dictates that it would be nigh on impossible to create a Hyperloop such as the one proposed between Dubai and Abu Dhabi – the open, expansive desert plains of the Middle East allow for an over ground Hyperloop to be created, moving along an elongated bridge between each stop. Densely built on urban spaces, suburban developments and a protection of our green spaces means this style would be unfeasible – our cities aren’t designed for it. And opting for an underground model would require intricate design to avoid disrupting our utility blueprint.

But perhaps most of all, these projected speed and efficiency figures are only hypothetical. In reality, would speeds of 1,080km/hr be able to be reached within such a Hyperloop structure in the UK? And what would the cost of, not only building the loop, but also the ticket charges for the customers be?