Hyperloop Technologies Inc., one of the two startups working to make Elon Musk's dream of frictionless, supersonic travel a reality, acquired 50 acres of land near Las Vegas to build the first test track for its propulsion system, the company announced Tuesday. The track will be ready in the first quarter of 2016, the company said, which would put it on pace to beat Musk's own test track planned for Texas this summer.
The acquisition of land by a Hyperloop company is a significant step for an industry that, thus far, has been long on hype but short on progress. The Los Angeles-based HTI says the deal with Nevada officials to build its so-called Propulsion Open Air Test at the Apex Industrial Park in North Las Vegas is a "milestone" in its quest to be the first team to prove the feasibility of Hyperloop, which was first popularized by Musk in a 2013 white paper.
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In a statement, HTI's CEO Rob Lloyd praised Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee for spearheading the land buy. "This decision represents another major milestone in our journey to bring Hyperloop to commercial reality," Lloyd said. "Hyperloop Technologies will invest first in regions where we receive government advocacy to move fast."
Las Vegas officials have been trying to lure a big tech firm to Apex Industrial Park for months now, with reports that Musk's Tesla Motors was a potential tenant. The Las Vegas Sun reported at the time that officials would waive 20 years of sales taxes and 10 years of property taxes if Tesla promised to invest $3.5 billion in the industrial park. But the electric car company never made the deal. Ironically, despite Musk's involvement with the Hyperloop concept, HTI isn't associated with him in any way. Rumor has it that when the time is right, he'll eventually choose one of the Hyperloop startups to back.
HTI has raised over $37 million through two rounds of financing, and recently announced some high-profile additions to its executive team, including Lloyd, the former co-president of Cisco, and Emily While, the former COO of Snapchat. No word on how much HTI paid for the 50 acres at Apex, nor whether the Nevada government subsidized the deal.
According to the company, the Propulsion Open Air Test will involve sending a "custom-designed linear electric motor" down a 1-kilometer track at a speed of 540 km/hour. HTI's technical team, led by CTO and co-founder Brogan BamBrogan, is "pioneering unique innovations including advancements in propulsion, tube design and fabrication, levitation systems, pod designs and thermodynamics and systems engineering," the company said.
"This decision represents another major milestone in our journey to bring Hyperloop to commercial reality."
The near-term goal is to construct a 3-kilometer test track to conduct a full-speed prototype. Meanwhile, a rival (but similarly named) firm Hyperloop Transport Technologies is working on a crowdsourced model, with its engineers and designers exchanging their time for equity in the company. That startup has plans to build an 8-kilometer in Quay Valley, a proposed town halfway between San Francisco and LA. HTT's chief operating officer told The Verge in October that once the land deal goes through, he expects to conduct the first test with live passengers in 32 months.
Thanks to a futuristic veneer, and the attachment of Musk's name, the Hyperloop has enjoyed breathless media coverage, but little scrutiny. An obstacle course of physical, legal, ethical, and financial challenges currently face those who are working toward making the Hyperloop a reality.
And 2016 seems to be the year when hyperloop goes mainstream. Texas A&M is hosting a design competition in late January. Later, both Hyperloop companies are promising high-profile tests of their respective technologies in late 2016 / early 2017. Then the public will get the chance to see whether this is indeed the transportation of the future, or just another financial boondoggle.