Maybe you've heard the Hyperloop mantra of "San Francisco to LA in 30 minutes?" Well, what about Bratislava to Vienna in eight? Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), one of the two LA-based startups working to realize Elon Musk's dream of 760 mph, tube-based travel, announced Thursday that it had reached a deal with the government of Slovakia to explore building a system in the central European country. The startup says possible routes include the capital Bratislava to Vienna, Austria — eight minutes at full speed — and Budapest, Hungary.
The company's CEO, Dirk Alhborn, has been traveling the world looking for foreign government's willing to accept the gospel of the Hyperloop. And they found one in Slovakia, a country trying to shed its communist past by investing heavily in technology. Alhborn praised Slovakia as a "technology leader," and said he hoped this deal — details of which are still pretty vague — would "incentivize collaboration and innovation within Slovakia and throughout Europe."
Bratislava to Vienna in eight minutes
There were other breathless reactions in HTT's press release. Vazil Hudak, the Harvard-trained minister of economy of the Slovak Republic, said, "A transportation system of this kind would redefine the concept of commuting and boost cross-border cooperation in Europe."
And Bibop Gresta, the flamboyant chief operating officer of HTT, noted that region's rich transportation history, such as the first underground train in Budapest and the first electric trainline between Bratislava and Vienna. "Slovakia continues to confirm its position as one of the most forward-thinking countries by embracing innovations like the Hyperloop transportation system," he said.
Musk first unveiled plans for "a fifth mode of transportation" in August 2013 in a white paper published on the SpaceX website. Under the plans, the Hyperloop would transport passengers in aluminum pods traveling as fast as 760 mph, mostly following the route of California's I-5. The estimated cost would be $6 billion for the passenger-only model, or $7.5 billion for a larger model capable of transporting freight.
There are still a lot of questions surrounding the Hyperloop — regulatory, real estate, safety — but that hasn't stopped companies like HTT and its rival Hyperloop Technologies Inc. (HTI), as well as Musk's SpaceX, from moving quickly on plans to test their prototypes sometime in 2016. HTT is unique among them in that it's crowdsourcing all of its labor and materials. Alhborn is also CEO of JumpStartFund, a Kickstarter-like site with over 100 projects like a "disaster-ready floating home," "virtual reality from space," the Hyperloop (of course), and, well, JumpStartFund itself. The company says it is building its first Hyperloop track in Quay Valley, a planned 75,000-resident sustainable community between San Francisco and LA.
"A transportation system of this kind would redefine the concept of commuting"
HTI is going the more traditional, venture capital-raising route, raising over $37 million in equity, according to CrunchBase, and recruiting big names to serve on its board like Jim Messina, former political strategist and deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama.
Slovakia is not the first government to express interest in the still-hypothetical Hyperloop. At SpaceX's pod design competition last January, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the Hyperloop the next "moonshot," but stopped short of pledging government support. The winners of the competition will gather at the company's soon-to-be-built test track in Hawthorne, California in August to test their winning designs. Meanwhile, HTI says it will conduct its first test in North Las Vegas in 2016. HTT has no date attached to the Slovakia project, but says it plans to break ground soon at Quay Valley.
Here's a look at Elon Musk's Hyperloop competition