DETROIT -- Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s high-speed space age transportation concept, may forever disrupt the auto industry as we know it. But the company that’s building it is now in Detroit enlisting auto industry suppliers to help engineer and manufacture it.
Hyperloop’s creators hope the system will one day transport pressurized capsules through tubes at speeds in excess of 700 mph.
Brogan BamBrogan, Hyperloop Technology’s swashbuckling, mustachioed chief technology officer and co-founder, told a standing room-only crowd at the SAE 2016 World Congress Wednesday that the Los Angeles venture is setting up a full-scale, two-mile working prototype north of Las Vegas that should be operating by the end of this year.
“This is real. This is happening,” BamBrogan told suppliers and industry engineers.
“We’re developing this technology. We’re calling this our Kitty Hawk moment,” he said, referring to the North Carolina location where the Wright Brothers first flew their airplane.
BamBrogan said he and his team want to tap into the expertise of companies that supply the auto industry.
BamBrogan, a Detroit native who was educated at the former General Motors Institute and was a Chrysler contract engineer before moving west to join Elon Musk at SpaceX -- said Hyperloop is looking for expertise in a wide range of automotive areas, including manufacturing engineering, tooling, suspensions, door seals, vehicle construction, vehicle dynamics and electric motors.
He told the audience that being at SAE made him aware of possible technology synergies that had not previously occurred to him.
The venture is also in hiring mode, he added.
“Today we have about 140 engineers. We’ll hire another 60-80 this year and another 120-200 next year,” he said. “We looking for people that have built something.”
Hyperloop is designing a complete system for transporting both passengers and freight. The pressurized capsules are conceived to move through low-pressure tubes at near supersonic speeds on a cushion of air. The tubes are designed to run above ground or under water.
On a busy traffic route, capsules could launch as often as every10 seconds, BamBrogan said.
BamBrogan, who was one of the first 25 engineers to join SpaceX, Musk’s private space-transport business, said Hyperloop is working on ways to keep costs down. He estimated it could cost $15 million per kilometer to build tunnels in both directions, not including the cost to acquire land or construct stations.
In a 2013 white paper, Musk described Hyperloop as a revolutionary “fifth mode” of transport after motor vehicles, trains, airplanes and boats. Musk originally envisioned a Hyperloop line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a journey that might take as little as a half an hour. Making that same trip in a car today takes around seven hours.
Skeptics have dismissed Musk’s idea as impractical science fiction. There are numerous issues, they say, ranging from potentially stratospheric cost to the mundane question of whether passengers would become sick riding in capsules at super speed.
BamBrogan acknowledges the challenges, but declared, “We could have one in operation by the end of the decade.”