Business First Look

Hyperloop One's near-supersonic transit comes closer to reality with 35 finalists

The list has been winnowed down to the most promising proposals, with representatives from 17 countries, including all six inhabited continents.

An artist rendering released by US-based startup Hyperloop One shows a high-speed transit system being considered for Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
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Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully tested their first powered aircraft in 1903 with four brief flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C., proving a concept that would come to revolutionize the way people travel. Now, more than a century later, American transportation startup Hyperloop One is looking for a place to host a "Kitty Hawk" moment of its own.

The firm, which aims to propel people and cargo in car-sized pods through low-pressure tubes at nearly 800 mph, unveiled a list of 35 semifinalists in its so-called Global Challenge to find project partners. Within five months of asking individuals, universities, private businesses, and governments to submit proposals, Hyperloop One received 2,600 submissions.

That list has been winnowed down to the most promising proposals, with representatives from 17 countries, including all six inhabited continents.

"These are all solutions that can make a real and immediate social and economic impact," Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd said in a statement Friday.

Eleven of the semifinalists are US teams, with a variety of proposals to connect various cities across the continental United States. India came in second on the list with five semifinalist proposals, followed by the United Kingdom with four.

The only semifinalist in South America would connect Buenos Aires with Córdoba, Argentina, and the only semifinalist in Africa would connect Johannesburg with Durban, South Africa.

Local, state, and federal governments have pledged funding to support 20 of the proposals.

Two of the semifinalist proposals call for projects in Colorado. One, backed by the state's transportation agency, would link the Denver International Airport to Greeley about 60 miles away. The hourlong drive would take about 10 minutes via hyperloop.

"We hope we win. We got a one in 35 chance of winning. But we’re going up against cities and corridors across the world," Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Executive Director Shailen Bhatt told CBS 4. "Even if we don’t win though, this is something that’s going to be part of the future in transportation, so we’ll definitely be looking at it."

Although the specifics of each proposal differ and remain subject to change, the general concept behind the Hyperloop design is similar to a high-speed bullet train, as Viknesh Vijayenthiran reported for Motor Authority in November:

The Hyperloop would run between two Hyperportals, the equivalent of a train station or airport. And running around town would be car-sized Hyperpods complete with self-driving capability and seating for four. Via a smartphone app, a customer could book a journey and then be directed to their nearest Hyperpod. Upon reaching the Hyperportal, the Hyperpod would dock up with three other Hyperpods before entering the Hyperloop for the journey.

It all looks very fancy but in reality we’re likely a decade or more away from seeing the first Hyperloop journey, and that's if a working Hyperloop can even be developed commercially. We’re still at the very early stages of development.

Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind innovative transportation companies Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is credited with the Hyperloop idea. Mr. Musk theorized in 2013 that a hyperloop could cut the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles down to 30 minutes.

Hyperloop One said it expects to announce an unspecified number of finalists by May.