Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) announced today that it will be using a new type of sensor-embedded carbon fiber to make its capsules, capable of transporting passengers through a nearly airless tube at speeds up to 760 mph, safer than ever. The company is calling this new material "Vibranium," which may sound familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Marvel Comics and its wildly popular Cinematic Universe.
In the comics, Captain America's iconic shield is made of a nearly indestructible metal called Vibranium. It is almost exclusively found in the tiny (and fictional) African nation of Wakanda, the ancestral home of the Black Panther, who had his silver screen debut this month in Captain American: Civil War — and will be starring in his own standalone movie in 2018. Or around the same time the first Hyperloop is expected to be in operation.
HTT's Vibranium, though, won't be used to make any superhero flair, but rather a dual-layer coating for the company's Hyperloop pod that will provide the passengers with twice the protection should anything damage the exterior. The company boasts that its Vibranium is "eight times stronger than aluminum and 10 times stronger than steel alternatives," which is fairly standard for reinforced carbon fiber. What makes HTT's version special is the embedded sensors that can transmit "critical information regarding temperature, stability, integrity and more, wirelessly and instantly." HTT unveiled a section of its Hyperloop capsule made of Vibranium at the Pioneer's Festival in Vienna today.
"What we are showing is, in part, this smart material which transmits without power integral stability and other values wirelessly," Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of both HTT and crowdfunding startup JumpStartFund, told The Verge. "Safety is the most important aspect. So the construction is done with [two] layers of Vibranium ... Guaranteeing absolute safety. Should one fail, [we] would we have another layer that guarantees that the passenger can be brought to safety."
Ahlborn confirmed that the name was inspired by the fictional Vibranium, and confessed to being a comic book fan. "Who isn't?" he said. "My kids are for sure."
eight times stronger than aluminum and 10 times stronger than steel
The material was developed in collaboration with C2i, a Slovakia-based company that manufactures carbon fiber for automobiles and aircraft. HTT recently announced a partnership with Slovakia's government to study the feasibility of building a Hyperloop between the country's capital of Bratislava, and the nearby cities of Vienna and Budapest. Today's announcement is the first indication that HTT will be getting help from the Eastern European nation's private sector as well.
HTT also announced an "innovation challenge," in partnership with Lufthansa Innovation and Deutsche Bahn, to be held July 6th at the Bratislava airport. As part of the contest, the company will create a mobile platform "for companies to improve travel and create new business potential." It sounds vague, but HTT's main rival, Hyperloop One, also recently announced a global challenge to leverage interest in the Hyperloop.
Earlier this month, Hyperloop One conducted its first public open-air test of its propulsion system in the Nevada desert, while HTT's developments have so far been relegated to press releases (the company also recently announced it had licensed a "cheaper, safer" form of magnetic levitation). But the two companies are very different. Unlike Hyperloop One, which is a traditional tech startup with investors, HTT boasts that it is a solely volunteer and crowdsourced venture. The company says it has talent from NASA, Boeing, Tesla, and SpaceX working among its 480-plus volunteers.
the next stage in transportation, or just a pipe dream?
Ahlborn says he pays no attention to his rivals at Hyperloop One. However it's clear that the competition between the two startups is fueling an arms race over a transportation system that many have dismissed as vaporware. Both companies claim they will conduct full-system tests later this year, which should be around the same time that SpaceX will complete its own test track in California (CEO Elon Musk first popularized the Hyperloop in 2013). That will be the public's first indication whether the Hyperloop is the next stage in transportation, or just a pipe dream.