Hyperloop One Conducts First Full-System Test

The test was done at a (relatively) slow speed.

Hyperloop One conducted the first full-scale test of its futuristic transportation system May 12, the company just revealed.

During the test, a prototype pod was shot down Hyperloop One’s test track at 70 mph, pulling 2g in the process. That’s quite a bit slower than the near-supersonic speeds Elon Musk promised in his initial Hyperloop proposal, and that Hyperloop One eventually hopes to deliver. But the test was a significant proof-of-concept moment.

The test proved that the entire Hyperloop system can work, at least on a small scale. It was the first Hyperloop One test conducted in a full vacuum, using magnetic levitation to propel the pod. Also known as maglev, this technology uses opposing magnetic forces to levitate (hence the name) an object from a surface and propel it forwards. Maglev trains have been discussed for decades, but high infrastructure costs have limited their appeal.

Hyperloop One conducted a much-publicized “first test” in May 2016, but it merely consisted of a sled being propelled down a short section of track, and only lasted a few second. In an appearance on CBS This Morning, where the test footage first aired, Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar called the May 2017 test the company’s “Kitty Hawk moment.”

Hyperloop’s current pod is 28 feet long and is built from aluminum and carbon fiber, according to The Verge. The windowless pod is designed to carry both passengers and cargo, according to Hyperloop One. In its next phase of testing, the company hopes to reach 250 mph.

In addition to reaching higher speeds, Hyperloop One has many other technical questions to address. It’s still unclear how people will be evacuated from a Hyperloop’s enclosed tubes in the event of a fire, power outage, or other emergency. Engineers will also have to find ways to minimize the g-load on passengers to keep people from getting sick.

Hyperloop One is also looking at possible locations to build a full-scale system. While it is investigating 11 possible U.S. routes, it’s likely that the first commercial Hyperloop will be built outside the U.S., in a country without much existing transportation infrastructure.

When he unveiled the Hyperloop concept in 2013, Elon Musk described it as a better alternative to high-speed rail, because Hyperloop pods can achieve higher speeds than trains. But a Hyperloop comes with the same infrastructure issues as a rail line: it still requires dedicated right-of-way and a significant investment just to get things up and running.

Railroads may not be as exciting as a Hyperloop, and trains can’t match its promised high speeds. But railroads are a proven technology—something that can’t be said of Hyperloop, at least not yet.