Hyperloop rivals vie for chance to build the high-speed system in India

India has become the latest potential market for the two startups attempting to implement the pods-in-a-vaccuum-tube idea from billionaire Elon Musk

Published: Feb 28, 2017

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Image: Steve Marcus / Reuters

India has become a must-have market for two startups each looking to build its version of the Hyperloop, a superfast surface transportation system that could attain speeds as high as 760 miles-an-hour (1,216 kmph).

The system was proposed in a now-famous paper by entrepreneur Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, over three years ago, and two ventures, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Hyperloop One are vying to be the first to actually build one.

The Hyperloop system involves moving pods that levitate inside sealed tubes at near vacuum and both the startups already have initial agreements to start working on the feasibility of building them in the United Arab Emirates — between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the case of Hyperloop One, and between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

Hyperloop is a superfast surface transportation system that could attain speeds as high as 760 miles-an-hour (1,216 kmph)

One proposal for such a system in India is from Mumbai to Pune, and Hyperloop Transporation’s Chairman Bibop Gresta asserts India could make it a reality in 38 months, if the government makes up its mind. That would reduce the travel time between the two cities to a matter of minutes, from the three-odd hours it takes today by road.

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India’s top policy makers may not be averse to it. ”India needs transformational growth and key to this is to embrace urbanisation through disruptive technology,” Amitabh Kant, chief executive of National Institution for Transforming India, told reporters at a conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. The government-backed think tank is more popularly called NITI Aayog (aayog means commission in the Hindi language).

“Hyperloop One will help accelerate India's growth towards building substantial infrastructure that is both financially an environmentally sustainable,” Rob Lloyd, chief executive of Hyperloop One said at the New Delhi conference. That said, India hasn’t really decided yet on giving the go ahead for these projects.

The conference was organised by Hyperloop One, which changed its name to its current one after starting out even more confusingly close to that of its main rival Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

The two startups have taken different approaches to funding their ventures. Hyperloop Transportation’s founder CEO Dirk Ahlborn started with crowdfunding. In December, he said the company had surpassed the $100 million milestone, including commitments of cash, land-value and in-kind support from a multitude of companies ranging from design specialists to brand managers.

Hyperloop One, which says it is preparing for a full-scale prototype test in the deserts of Nevada this year, has raised $160 million so far, via the more conventional venture-capital route. Most recently, Hyperloop One raised $50 million in October in a round led by Dubai port operator DP World. Hyperloop One has said it has agreements with the governments of Netherlands and Finland as well, to study the feasibility of building its system in those countries.

While the two startups are forging ahead, skeptics remain, including respected scientists and engineers. The Hyperloop has its technical challenges and the biggest question is if the one or both the companies will be able overcome them to build the high-speed system in the ambitious timeframe they have set themselves.

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