Business model is acquiring global expertise at a fraction of the cost, writes Nick Webster from Belo Horizonte
Company offers Nasa scientists and experts a piece of the business to deliver Hyperloop
The company behind plans to bring super-fast travel to the UAE is bringing on board everyone from Nasa scientists to world-renowned experts as it seeks to make the technology a reality.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is offering shares of the company to some of the best experts in their field to help develop the high-speed transport system that could drastically cut travel times between cities and even continents.
Executives spoke to The National in Brazil on Saturday as they signed a deal to open a freight terminal in Contagem, near the country’s sixth largest city Belo Horizonte, from which the technology can operate.
Tech start-ups that have taken on the long held science of moving objects at high speed via electro magnetic levitation have so far struggled to develop it into a viable commercial enterprise.
One of the main sticking points is the huge investment required to gather engineering expertise and foresight to develop necessary feasibility studies, vital to encourage governments to get involved.
California-based HTT’s business model of offering shares in the company is helping keep costs down.
“We have the best team of talent available to work on this project,” said Bibop Gresta, president and co-founder of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.
“Nasa scientists are working with university lecturers to Pulitzer prize nominees – many don’t get paid a salary, just stock options so it must be something they believe in.
"That is what makes it so exciting. The only way you can build this is to answer questions in a very specific way to come up with working solutions.”
HTT has already completed its own feasibility study on the model planned for the UAE, probably between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.
Rivals at the Sir Richard Branson backed Virgin Hyperloop One will conduct a similar evaluation on a service between Pune and Mumbai that could reduce transport times from 3 hours to just 25 minutes.
The Virgin company has also signed an agreement with the Indian State of Maharashtra.
Despite the rivalry, those at HTT insist the technology is not an arms race to bring the first project to the mass market.
“It is impossible to say when people will be able to use the Hyperloop, and whilst we have to be optimistic, we have a responsibility to say to the world that we are ready,” said Andres de Leon, chief operating officer of Hyperloop TT.
“The technology is in development, so now it is time to implement it with the regulation. Guidelines are being created to help this process accelerate.”
Passenger tubes and capsules have arrived in Toulouse, and HTT is connecting that side of the technology very soon.
“It is unprecedented, with investors committing to this project from all over the world,” Mr Gresta said.
“Hyperloop TT are not the conquistadors to exploit countries, but to enhance and leave a lasting legacy and growth within communities.”
Those at HTT are quietly confident theirs will be the first to enter public service.
A passenger pod and 1km test track is due to be launched in Toulouse later this year and follows the unveiling of the freight hub and innovation centre in Contagem in the south east of Brazil, an hour and a half plane ride from Rio de Janeiro.
The city’s Hyperloop Academy will bring jobs and training to an underdeveloped corner of the Minas Gerais region.
“I have the most exciting role with HTT as I can innovate and dream without walls,” said Yvonne Cagle, an American NASA astronaut recruited by HyperloopTT.
“Whilst building bridges with the academy to bring in the very best minds and skills, we can incubate ideas and solutions within local and global innovations in transportation.
“That will transcend into tourism, education, environment and sustainability.”
In 1989 Dr Cagle volunteered to serve as the Air Force Medical Liaison Officer for the STS-30 Atlantis shuttle mission to test the Magellan spacecraft, and is now using her expertise and experience to help develop Hyperloop around the world.
“There is huge benefit from growth and learning, so the academy is very important in cultivating young minds,” she said.
“I feel like I’m looking back on impossibility and telling it to catch up. This technology is already changing the world by altering the perceptions of young people and their hope for the future.”
There is still some way to go before passengers are flying through vacuum tunnels at 1200 km an hour in Abu Dhabi, but those at HTT are confident they will be travelling in a pod designed by their experts.
“Creating technology that can be used not just in Brazil, but all over the world is the focus of the innovation centre,” said Mr de Leon.
“It is important for the UAE to understand that we are trying to connect this technology around the world – with Toulouse, Belo Horizonte and Abu Dhabi where the technology and innovation will be shared.”