A 17-minute trip from Austin to Dallas sounds great, but is the hyperloop hype real?

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – Virgin’s Hyperloop is coming to Texas, promising a 17-minute trip from Austin to Dallas. In 2017, the company selected Texas as one of the ten regions that would receive the technology. Earlier this week, the company announced a plan to begin construction on a facility to support the Texas Hyperloop. It would seem things are moving forward with the $15 billion project… but does it even work?

Hyperloop technology in a nutshell

The Hyperloop is all about magnets and air resistance. Imagine it like those pneumatic tubes at the banks where you deposit your checks, except in this case you’re the one being deposited. A pressurized tube is stretched across the state. Inside is a pod for passengers. The tube is sealed and most of the air is sucked out, limiting air resistance. This means the pod can travel faster.

Inside the tube are a chain of magnets. These magnets activate when electricity passes through them. As each magnet in the chain is activated, the pod is pulled forward. Because the tube is pressurized, a tiny bubble of air forms beneath the pod. This reduces friction further, meaning the pod can now travel faster.

The pod would gradually gain and lose speed when it started and stopped. This way the ride feels less like a rollercoaster and more like an elevator. The pod would reach a max speed of 640mph, meaning a trip to Dallas from Austin would take 17-minutes.

Does it actually work?

Here’s the thing: there aren’t any commercial Hyperloops currently running. The only working Hyperloop is located at a test site in Nevada. The company has released several videos of the system actually functioning. But this is a test site, not a Hyperloop being forced to run hundreds of trips and thousands of customers a day.

The first commercial Hyperloop will open in Dubai and run from that city to Abu Dhabi. It’s scheduled to open in 2020. There are 10 other Hyperloop projects in development, including the Texas Hyperloop.

Criticisms of the project

There are some safety concerns people have raised. James Powell Ph.D., the co-developer of the Maglev Train, said in an interview that because of the tight space the pod is traveling through, if it hits bump of just three millimeters, we could witness a catastrophe.

Physicists have all raised concerns about the G-forces impact on the body and how slight curves in the track could lead to motion sickness. Additionally, even if the track is perfectly built, slight shifts in the Earth over time could cause damage to the tube. What this means is constant maintenance and a high degree of engineering would be required for these projects to be safe for everyone.

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