The Upgrade

The Hyperloop Concept Is Finally Growing Up

Competing visions for Elon Musk’s technology are coming down to Earth

Lance Ulanoff
Published in
10 min readMay 31, 2019
A SpaceX 2018 Hyperloop Pod Competition team member works on his pod entry. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

TThe first public test of the Hyperloop — a tube- and-pod-based, sub-supersonic transportation system — was little more than an Erector et-style sled racing along a short strip of track in the parched Nevada desert. And it only lasted for a few seconds at 115 mph.

Put simply, there was nothing in the demonstration that even hinted at sleek pods rocketing through low-pressure tubes at almost 700 mph, as Elon Musk described in his original Hyperloop white paper. It was hard to imagine how Hyperloop One, or any company for that matter, would make the leap from these DIY test beds to a functional system that could cut the Los Angeles to San Francisco commute time from a roughly 90-minute flight (or 6-hour drive) to a 30-minute terrestrial tube ride. And yet, back in 2016, we were all pumped. Sub-supersonic pod commuting was just a few years away and the world couldn’t wait to try it.

Hyperloop One’s 2016 test sled doesn’t look much like Hyperloop tech. Photo by Lance Ulanoff

In those first few years after Elon Musk outlined, in remarkable detail, his vision for a new kind of transportation system that relied on sealed pods, depressurized tubes, and a magnetic levitation and propulsion system, Hyperloop One (now called Virgin Hyperloop One, or VHO), raced to the head of an emerging class of companies developing versions of the technology. Then-CEO Rob Lloyd announced that the company would be moving cargo by 2019 and people by 2021.

“To be honest with you, coming from the transportation sector, we knew right from the beginning that the initial timelines were not realistic”

Of course, that didn’t quite happen.

In 2016, Hyperloop One was busy connecting giant tubes for a test dev loop. Photo by Lance Ulanoff

Thus far, all of the Hyperloop companies — and there are more than half a dozen of them — have moved neither people nor cargo…



Lance Ulanoff

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.