North Texas transportation officials are studying the feasibility of building a hyperloop between Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth. But many people still know little about the brand-new technology.
So NBC 5 traveled to the world’s first hyperloop in the desert outside Las Vegas and the headquarters of Virgin Hyperloop One, the company that built it.
The hyperloop test facility in Nevada is known as DevLoop. NBC 5's cameras weren't allowed to shoot video of the hyperloop's inner workings — it's top secret — but were shown the basics.
At first glance, it appears similar to a huge oil pipeline or water main. The gleaming white tube is about the length of five football fields. The pod-like hyperloop vehicle runs on a track inside the structure.
"It's a complete vehicle," said Dan Katz, head of North American projects at Hyperloop One. "What's amazing is there's no moving parts on the vehicle. Nothing turns."
Vacuum pumps remove the air from inside the tube, reducing wind resistance. Powerful magnets then levitate the pod above the track and propel it forward at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour.
"It'll feel like the best airplane you've ever ridden in," Katz explained. "It's going to feel incredibly smooth. There's no turbulence. The takeoff and landing will be about half the G-force on your body."
You can't ride in a hyperloop just yet because there's no air in the tube and developers haven't built a pod that has a life support system. Engineers say they do not believe that would be a complex challenge to overcome.
DevLoop has proven that the technology works, Katz said.
"We've seen some people come here as skeptics, but they never leave here as skeptics," he said. "This, of course, is only a prototype. But an actual system in Dallas-Fort Worth would probably look very similar; large tubes on top of concrete supports."
The next step for Virgin Hyperloop One is to build a longer test track that would eventually become part of a commercial system. Hundreds of people at the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles are working to make that happen.
"Testing is the name of the game. We do a lot of testing here," said Kristen Hammer, a senior engineer.
They believe North Texas would be an ideal location.
The region is fairly flat, and the track could run in a straight line between the major population centers of Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth. A trip from one downtown to the other would take just six minutes at a speed of 360 miles per hour.
"That route in particular, Dallas-Fort Worth, is a great first route for us," Hammer explained. "Flat and straight is the favorite from the engineering side, so Fort Worth to Dallas is that."
Virgin Hyperloop One isn't the only company working on hyperloops.
Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk is credited with setting the idea for the technology in motion with a white paper in 2013. Musk's Boring Company hopes to dig a hyperloop tunnel to connect East Coast cities, NBC News reported. Musk's SpaceX has a track in Hawthorne, California, that has hosted pod competitions.
And Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is also involved, aiming to bring hyperloop systems to China and France.
Other cities and regions around the world that have expressed interest in building a hyperloop include Chicago, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Missouri and Colorado. India, Dubai and Saudi Arabia are also taking a serious look at being the first to build a fully functioning hyperloop system.
The high cost of setting up routes is still a challenge for companies, as is securing land rights and environmental approvals, NBC News reported.
Virgin Hyperloop One hopes to build its next project sometime in the early 2020s.
"To be one of the first ones is really to put your city on the map internationally as a center for transportation technology," Katz said. "Yes, this is going to happen. The question is, where?"