This article will paint a picture of the nascent Hyperloop industry. It will show why, more than anything, it is a Movement. For newcomers to the scene, it will provide a map for you to orient yourself with.
For the active makers that are already busy building, it will show who’s who and where you should go for interesting conversations. 10x Labs sees the Hyperloop technology as a legitimate cornerstone in the construction of the post-fossil fuel era and this post will tell you why.
- What is the Hyperloop?
- How it all began in 2013 – the super-credibility of Elon Musk
- HTT – Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the first loop startup
- Hyperloop Tech, the second loop startup
- The SpaceX Pod Design Competion, the cradle of the Movement
- The 120 teams of Hyperloop Makers
- Euroloop, a forecast of a Hyperloop-enabled future
- Going from deceptive to disruptive: what will happen in 2016
What is the Hyperloop?
The Hyperloop is a new name for an old idea. It boils down to transporting people and cargo in pods racing through near-vacuum within a system of pneumatic tubes.
On the most basic level, the Hyperloop is pneumatic tube post on a (much!) bigger scale meant for people and cargo at great speeds. On a not-so-basic level, the differences are plenty.
The vision is to build vast stretches of tubes containing partial vacuum. They need to be big enough to fit a pod the length of a bus, held up on pylons and going through tunnels that will connect major metropolitan areas. This is of particular interest to governments in emerging markets.
The estimated average speed for people transport is 700 mph, and for cargo that will be much higher. The Hyperloop is completely electric and designed to make optimal use of renewable energy. In fact, the pylons can double as wind power towers as well as radio masts and the long tubes could be draped in solar panels.
This whole concept has its fair share of critics.
According to Elon Musk who gave birth to the idea, the Hyperloop will be ‘immune to weather, sustainably self-powering, resistant to earthquakes and not disruptive to those along the route’.
It is a fifth mode of transport – something other than road, rail, water or air. The vision is to connect continents the way cities are connected with metro lines, for people and cargo.
And yes, the plan is to go underwater as well. Can this world changing idea work at scale, you may rightly wonder?
Let’s take it from the beginning.
How it all began in 2013 – the super-credibility of Elon Musk
Elon Musk is a fascinating individual.
He’s a self-made billionaire from South Africa and a pioneer of the early internet, online payment, electric transport & solar energy and space exploration. When PayPal was sold to eBay in 2001, Musk walked away with a cool $165 million.
He used this wealth to bankroll the fledgling startup Tesla Motors and to start a new company, SpaceX. The goal of this enterprise is to make human life multi-planetary by establishing a self-sustaining colony on Mars.
Since its founding in 2002, SpaceX has had a profound effect on the otherwise conservative space industry. The company is innovating at a fierce speed and is steadily bringing down the cost of reaching orbit.
In late 2015, SpaceX started a new chapter in the history of space travel when they succeeded in landing their Falcon 9 rocket for the first time.
SpaceX performing a successful landing of their Falcon 9 rocket
Due to all of these achievements and the enduring courage of Elon Musk, he inspires great confidence in others when he speaks.
If I were to voice an objectively crazy idea, people may dismiss it as naive folly. When Musk says it, the same people begin to believe in the opportunity.
He wields super-credibility, i.e. the power to make the seemingly unbelievable into something others can dare to put their faith in.
That is what he did in the summer of 2013 when he released a white paper detailing his vision of a new mass-transit system.
He named his concept the Hyperloop, and then made it open-source in the hope that others would take it and make it a reality.
Why would he do that, you may ask?
Musk’s official reasoning is that he is very, very, very busy with SpaceX and Tesla. He cannot devote enough time to also bring a fifth mode of transport into being, he says.
It remains to be seen whether he can keep himself away though. It has become more than clear that he’s keeping a close eye on the Movement.
More on that later.
It should be said that Musk’s idea for the Hyperloop was born out of frustration and personal needs.
He lives in L.A. (where the SpaceX HQ and factory is, in Hawthorne) but spends about half his time in San Francisco (where the Tesla factory is, in Fremont) and so suffers from the 380 mile (620 km) long commute on a regular basis.
The government initiative that’s meant to solve this is the California High Speed Rail Project. It’s estimated that for a cost of $68 billion the new rail line will be operational in 2029 with a speed of up to 220 miles per hour (350 km/h).
This is less than mediocre in the eyes of Elon Musk and so he set about figuring out a better way. Something much faster and far more cheap. Musk himself has stated that the engineering required to build the Hyperloop is not hard.
In fact ‘his interns could do it‘. Super-credibility works that way, once you’ve got it.
The whitepaper detailing his vision was released by Musk himself via his Twitter account on August 12 in 2013. It received an appropriate amount of tech media buzz at the time.
Then things quieted down and the world went on using its current four modes of transport.
Yet, a small fire had been lit by the Muskian spark and soon a new and legitimate force would use it to light a torch of its own.
HTT – Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the first loop startup
Dirk Ahlborn was born in Germany and began his entrepreneurial journey in 1993.
After several startup journeys in Europe he moved to the US and Los Angeles where he continued on this path. He has started and sold companies within the realm of alternative energy.
He is not a Stanford graduate, nor is he a Silicon Valley A-list celebrity like Elon Musk.
Despite this, or because of it, he was the first seasoned entrepreneur to put faith in the outlandish vision of the Hyperloop when it was proposed.
Perhaps he did so because he was in a somewhat unique position to seize upon the opportunity.
Ahlborn is the founder of JumpStartFund, a novel type of crowdsourcing platform. It enables anyone to post an idea and for others to contribute to it, in exchange for equity in the company.
JumpStartFund is a tool for rallying like minded makers around innovation. Passion is the glue, rather than money.
Ahlborn did just that, and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies was incorporated in October 2013.
It so turned out that many people had been smitten by the idea and would like to help it come true.
They only lacked an effective method of collaboration. Jumpstarter and HTT became the medium that enabled that.
Ahlborn stated in October 2015 that they had over 400 engineers on their team, and they’re growing every day. They all work in a distributed fashion across the entire world on solving the problem.
Among them are those who otherwise work at SpaceX, Tesla, NASA and other noteworthy organisations. No one gets payed, but everybody gets a share based on how much work they put in. A minimum of 10 hours every week is required.
The window to join HTT is still open but not for much longer, as the company will make its IPO sometime during the 2nd quarter of 2016.
The primary reason is not to raise a lot of money (though they will) but to enable their community of contributors to legally buy stock in the US-based company. All in line with the JumpStartFund principles.
The community of HTT were the first believers in Elon Musk’s vision of the Hyperloop. They operate just outside the Silicon Valley limelight and do so without most of the normal trappings of a tech startup.
Alongside their competitor, Hyperloop Technologies Inc (founded in 2015), they are running fast to build a working demo of the concept.
To be the first company to transport people through a full-size tube at high speed, and to do so in a safe fashion, is more than important.
Last time something like that happened was when the Wright brothers achieved their first few seconds of flight time at the Kitty Hawk air field in 1903.
Their competitor, who are the ones calling this a race, has pledged to do the same at a sooner date in Nevada. More on that below.
Dirk Ahlborn has expressed confidence that his company will reach this milestone on time and then move on to building the real thing.
He has also declined to characterize this as a race between two startups, as he envisions a world with many Hyperloop companies. The way he sees it, this new technology will be a cornerstone in the emerging post-fossil fuel era.
It will take a lot of players to actually build that future.
Based on HTT’s projection, a trip between L.A. and San Francisco would take about 30 minutes and a return ticket would cost maybe $50 with the Hyperloop.
Ahlborn is however sceptical about seeing a widespread deployment of the technology in the US or Europe. There, infrastructure is okay and do not demand disruption, he thinks.
In emerging markets, the need and therefore the political interest is clear. HTT believe that they will build their network on the Indian subcontinent and in China during the next decade.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is the definite outlier and underdog in this space.
They defy the typical conventions of a disruptive startup. Their employees are community members, working for equity and not salary.
Even if the latter will change in the future, the company can only be described as different. Perhaps groundbreaking, perhaps unsustainable.
Regardless, they have a head start and confident leadership. HTT may not be so much an engineering company as it is an expression of an internet-enabled organisation at massive scale.
Their ability to execute will be the determining factor, and we will all know within 12 months or so.
Should they succeed to pull off a successful demo, they will not only increase the amount of Hyperloop believers by several orders of magnitude.
They may also popularize a novel principle of how and why people start a company.
Hyperloop Technologies Inc, the second loop startup
If the lovechild of SpaceX and the Silicon Valley elite was given a name and a mission, it would be Hyperloop Tech.
This company is the all-star darling of the tech media, the cool kid on this emerging block. It was founded in 2015 by celebrated venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar and engineer Brogan Bambrogan, a very early employee at SpaceX.
Pishevar has been working with Musk for several years, and spoke with him about the Hyperloop idea before it was published.
During a fireside chat at Stanford Business School in June, Pishevar stated that he had asked Elon if the system would be useful not only for transporting people but also for cargo freight. The answer was yes.
Pishevar then proceeded to look at the global freighting industry.
He found that the 15 biggest ocean liners shipping goods across the high seas are responsible for the same green house emissions as all the cars in the world.
How to change that? What could be a 10X improvement to that system?
With Musk’s blessing, Shervin Pishevar set out to build the Hyperloop and convinced Bambrogan to join him along with other SpaceX veterans.
Hyperloop Tech has managed to attract a true A-list of entrepreneurial glitterati to join its team.
A big milestone and huge credibility boost was hit in September when Rob Lloyd, former co-president of Cisco, came on board as CEO.
The company is based in the outskirts of L.A. and has from its inception had a very active social media presence.
They’re on a fierce hiring spree, not only recruiting engineers but also seasoned sales staff.
The leadership team has traveled the world in the past couple of months to talk about their vision at conferences. They have also allegedly met with government officials and heads of infrastructure in many countries.
Hyperloop Tech wants to seal deals with cities and regions for future loop connections, and they don’t want to wait until after they’ve shown that the technology actually works.
Rob Lloyd even shared this vision with the Swedish public radio, drawing a future image a Hyperloop-connected Scandinavia. Wouldn’t that be sweet.
Lloyd and Pishevar have announced that they’re well on their way to raising a $80 million series A round, which is a lot even for Silicon Valley.
Bambrogan has repeatedly stated that ‘The Hyperloop is real‘ and that they could easily build the thing with existing technology.
What requires innovation is to bring down the cost, in order to make the system viable at grand scale. Plenty of people disagree.
Hyperloop Tech has chosen Mountain View Industrial Park in North Las Vegas, Nevada, for its own ‘Kitty Hawk moment’.
The test track is scheduled to be operational in early 2017. Among the many former SpaceX veterans at Hyperloop Tech it’s common to refer to how ‘The team is trying to operate on a timescale that is of Elon Musk ilk‘.
They claim to have learned how to engineer reality out of the seemingly impossible.
There can be no doubt that Hyperloop Tech is the public favorite among the two big loop companies.
They have the money, the star players and the affinity with Elon Musk to convince the tech world that they just might be the next Tesla Motors or SpaceX. Still, that’s a big might.
Musk himself has said nothing about the work done by his former disciples. He has confirmed that he has had conversations with the leaders of Hyperloop Tech as well as HTT.
Yet, apart from cheering on them both in the most general way he has remained silent. Speculations run rife.
Is the grand wizard watching closely to see who will prove to the world that his vision can be made true, only to then move in with his billions and take charge of the winning horse? Or form his own original Hyperloop company?
Hyperloop Tech looks like a winner in the conventional sense.
Whether they can walk all that exponential talk may be the most interesting story to catch in technology during 2016.
The SpaceX Pod Design Competion, the cradle of the Movement
In August 2015, Elon Musk did move his hand in the Hyperloop space.
He had been quite silent about it since he released his white paper two years before. SpaceX suddenly announced that they will host a pod design competition that will take place at their HQ in L.A., a year later.
The challenge is primarily aimed at engineering college students, though in effect open to anyone. It’s a traditional design contest, where the teams are charged with building pods meant for a Hyperloop system based on these specs.
SpaceX will build a tube system at 1/4 of the real size, and from all over the world teams of engineers will arrive with their pods and bravely see what works.
Ahead of either of the two loop companies, Elon Musk and SpaceX will provide the world with the first larger scale tests of the Hyperloop idea.
Before the SpaceX Pod Design Competition, not that many people had acted upon their belief in the Hyperloop.
After it was announced, more than 120 teams from around the globe joined the contest and began making. A grassroot Movement was born, now that there was an accessible way with a clear goal for people to embark on.
Overnight, the Hyperloop space expanded with hundreds of new hopefuls. Yours truly and my fellow co-founders very much included.
By lowering the technical and financial bar for entering the larger Hyperloop scene, Elon Musk has increased the number of teams working on the problem by more than 50X.
All of these new players will submit their designs to SpaceX and run their pods through their tube.
The data collected from this grand experiment, masked as a design contest, will be worth billions to anyone that wants to build a full-scale Hyperloop.
Musk may be busy with ending the fossil-fuel era and making human life multi-planetary, but he has not forgotten about his other idea.
In fact, he has merely figured out a clever way of enabling others to do the basic engineering and making sure he gathers all the insights no matter what.
As a pit stop ahead of the actual competition in June 2016, the contestants will gathered in College Station, Texas, on January 29-30 at the T&M Design Weekend. We were there, and it was epic.
From all over the world, though mostly the US, engineer makers made their way through the adorably small air port and into the massive Hall of Champions where the contest was held.
During two days, one could walk from booth to booth and see different interpretations of the Hyperloop idea. Some teams had envisioned entire pods, others had chosen to focus to form and function to subsystems.
In the end, 22 winners were chosen (with an additional 7 to be appointed later) and will now continue their pursuit and come to Hawthorne, L.A., this summer with prototypes ready for the SpaceX Hyperloop test track.
We went there not to participate in the contest, but to join the Hyperloop Movement. We were believers before, now we are committed and will release podcast interviews with the makers of the community.
The Hyperloop will be made real. That was made perfectly clear by the raw onslaught of enthusiasm that greeted Elon Musk as he stepped out onto the stage once the award ceremony was over. By doing so he forged passion into purpose. The rest is mathematics.
We believe that the Hyperloop is real. We are convinced that among the 120 teams currently building pods for this contest there are a handful of people that will go on to found billion dollar loop startups of their own. This is a Movement now, and the makers within it are discovering what tomorrow will look like.
The 120 teams of Hyperloop Makers
From Uzbekistan to Mexico, from Stanford University to a high school in Illinois – budding Hyperloopers have heeded the call.
Here’s a world map of all the contestants, made by a community group called Hyperloop University.
Below are some of the teams that we pay extra close attention to. They all tell interesting stories:
Team HyperLynx: The crowdfunding heroes
This band of eight mechanical engineering students from the University of Denver in Colorado made quite a splash when they concluded their Kickstarter campaign.
By November 20 2015 they had raised $6,658 from a total of 88 backers, of which we are proud to be a few.
Their success has since inspired others to also attempt crowdfunding as a means to realise their visions of what a Hyperloop pod should look like.
Team HyperLynx are quite vocal about how they see their future and share updates on their designs on a regular basis.
rLoop: The reddit reaction
rLoop were one of the 22 winners at the Design Weekend, and the only winning team who were not affiliated with a school. They are also, we can confirm, truly nice people and we are very happy to see them proceed with the vision.
The team does not hail from a particular university or from one geographical location at all. They are spawned from the internet, and more precisely reddit.
Somewhat similar to HTT, rLoop is a distributed band of passionate makers that want to take action towards making the Hyperloop a reality.
They have been described as a think tank that turns the fact that their members are spread across the world into a feature, not a deficit. All talk but no bark, or the real thing in an underdog’s clothing?
Having met them, we are impressed and would encourage any investors and other interested external parties to stretch out a hand.
Team Illini Hyperloop: The early movers
In the very nascent industry that is the Hyperloop, being fast in going from nothing to something counts for a lot.
Illini Hyperloop, from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, did just that in June 2015 when they shared this cool video of a very early proof of concept.
Their pursuit is a Senior Design project at the university, backed by Shell Oil Company.
For many of the makers in the Hyperloop Movement, this team from Illinois represent the forerunners that gained for themselves a head start.
Conant Hyperloop: The high school challengers
This team is not an honorable mention, but a genuine contender in this group of makers.
Like the previous team, they hail from Illinois but unlike their more senior colleagues they have yet to graduate high school.
These twelve budding engineers were surprised to learn that they had been admitted to the SpaceX contest, but proved to be a force to be reckoned with even when compared to some of the more experienced teams during the weekend in Texas.
Conant Hyperloop won the Subsystem Technical Excellence Award, focusing on figuring out the safety and warning systems. We are delighted to have had them as guests on our podcast. Follow them on Twitter and get in the loop.
HyperXite: Locked and loaded
From University of California, Irvine, the HyperXite team present a powerful image of the Hyperloop future and their ability to execute in it. After all, they are proud owners of a Design Weekend winner’s award signed by Elon Musk.
They have attracted several powerful sponsors, including the simulation software maker Ansys, and their core team consist of 21 students from 7 different disciplines.
HyperXite is perhaps the most socially active student team online, growing their following at a steady pace.
If you’re curious about how the Hyperloop will look, feel and function in the near future you’re likely to get a good idea fast by taking a look at the work done by this team.
Carnegie Mellon University Hyperloop: A broad edge
The CMU Hyperloop student team is an impressive conglomerate of over 50 people from the disciplines of engineering, design and business. Few were surprised to see that were among the Design Weekend winners.
In a similar vein to the HyperLynx team from the University of Denver, they are using crowdfunding to finance and validate their concept.
This strategy is also different, since they use a native Carnegie Mellon University platform to run their campaign.
At the time of publishing this article they have yet to reach their funding goal, so if you share their vision this provides an excellent opportunity to invest in it.
Drexel Hyperloop: A dragon from the streets of Philadelphia
This vast horde of Hyperloopers do mean business, both by the looks of their pod and the size and diversity of their 87 person strong team. When they won their award back in the Hall of Champions, they roared as load as the beast that grace their pod.
On aesthetics alone, we have to cheer to for their pod design but no one can deny that the Drexel team has got the science to back it up.
Similar to other teams they use crowdfunding as a means to finance their pursuit, and you can support them through GoFundMe here should you wish.
Hyperloop Toronto: Built to scale
Outside of the US there are plenty of groups that peak our interest.
Hyperloop Toronto is high up on that list with their professional image and a team consisting of engineering professionals as well as students.
Organized and incorporated as a startup, Hyperloop TO is seeking to go the distance far beyond the scope of the SpaceX competition. They are currently hiring for more engineering positions.
Ansys, among others, is a sponsor also for this team. They are of course heading to Texas and look poised to deliver in a convincing fashion.
Unlike most other teams, Hyperloop Toronto is already a legitimate company with plans of joining a startup accelerator.
In the Hyperloop space they present a somewhat unique opportunity for investors and professionals to engage with, which we find most interesting. We also had fun when hanging out during the Design Weekend. You should follow them on Twitter.
Team Delft Hyperloop: Elegantly European
Taking the leap to Europe and landing in the Netherlands, we find the team sprung from Delft University of Technology.
Team Delft is pure student team, and they are pursuing a solution (article in Dutch, Google Translate is your friend) based on the concept of creating air cushions for the pods through magnetic levitation.
At the Design Weekend, they had not only the largest flags above their booth but also one of the more compelling live demos. Nothing like seeing things hover to make you believe in the future.
Delft Hyperloop were victorious indeed in Texas, claiming the second prize with only the team from MIT ahead of them. We will most definitely interview them on the podcast, and hope to also make a visit.
In the meantime, you should follow them.
Euroloop, a forecast of a Hyperloop-enabled future
Having laid out the state of the Hyperloop scene at this current time, it’s appropriate to show how 10X Labs views this industry and how we’ve chosen to take action.
We have created a future forecast called Euroloop to explore the market and understand the technology.
I was personally smitten by the Hyperloop bug at the fireside chat at Stanford Business School in June where Pishevar, Bambrogan and Josh Giegel shared their visions.
Shortly thereafter, SpaceX announced the pod design competition. We knew we had to be part of this adventure, the question was how.
Euroloop is not designed to partake in the SpaceX competition. Nor is it a for profit company in itself.
It’s a platform for exploring the Hyperloop technology, and a mechanism for prototyping with it.
10x Labs helps large incumbent companies to successfully navigate into the future. We call that Skunk Works as a Service.
We co-create with makers and startups to understand what’s about to emerge.
The Euroloop initiative is a way to do these things simultaneously, and have a lot of fun while doing so:
As this article aims to show, plenty of the world’s smartest engineers are working on building the core tech necessary for the Hyperloop. The problem will be solved.
Towards the end of this decade, several full-scale loop systems will be under construction in various emerging markets. We hope that will take place also in Europe and the States.
For the freighting industry, such a system may provide a literal ‘internet of things’, as cargo and goods will be transported at unrivaled speeds and without being bound by bulk restrictions.
It will spawn a plethora of new business models, and disrupt deeply fortified industries.
Between now and when this future has become a fact, Euroloop will be our way of showing established companies how they can take action in this space.
Going from deceptive to disruptive: what will happen in 2016
Author and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis has created a model of how exponential technologies start as deceptive and over time become disruptive as the prices go down and the utility increases.
The disruptive effect only takes place when broad categories of people, not just the early adopters, start using a new technology.
We argue that this is what happened in 2007 with smart phones (a conglomerate of different technologies that had reached sufficient maturity) when Apple released the first iPhone.
Virtual Reality is definitely right on the cusp of having its ‘iPhone moment’, but it remains to be seen whether it happens this year or the next.
If Tesla Motors continue to execute their roadmap on time, affordable and powerful electric cars will be available to regular consumers in 2017. Maybe even sooner, if the Chevrolet Bolt keeps its promises.
Where does the Hyperloop fit in on this scale, given that it does not yet exist in any practical sense? Our estimation looks like this:
Once we’ve reached the point where the technology is legitimately disruptive, starting a Hyperloop company will be almost as difficult as launching a new railroad line.
Right now, however, it is still possible to gather all the makers in one (large, but still) room. That’s what happened in Texas on January 29-30.
The number of legitimate startups building the core tech can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.
We’re not saying that getting into the Hyperloop scene now is easy, but we do say that doing so is neither complicated or costly.
Passion and a maker spirit will gain you access to what, we believe, will become a cornerstone of the future and a multi billion dollar industry. In ten years.
Young entrepreneurs and engineers should participate in this space because this is a brand new frontier where pivotal discoveries will be made over the next few years.
Silicon Valley seed investments will flow into the category once the concept has been proven by the forerunners that are Hyperloop Tech and HTT. Position yourself to take advantage of this by joining the Movement, today.
Large companies should not just pay attention, but actively participate in the Hyperloop scene by investing in the startups that drive it.
The disruptive capacity of this technology, once deployed at scale, will utterly change our global infrastructure. People may then contemplate to commute across continents, and everything we know about how to ship goods will be challenged.
This represents immense opportunity, and just as large a threat.
The best way to surf this wave of change is to avoid being crushed by it. By putting resources into the Hyperloop industry now you get in cheap, and early enough to act upon it.
There’s a bunch of smart kids working on this in their garages right now, and that tends to amount to exponential impact later on.
10x Labs sees a Hyperloop-enabled future and in the years to come we will actively explore it together with startups as well as the established companies in our network.
Euroloop is our vehicle for discovery and prototyping in this space. We want to provide actionable roadmaps of how exponential technologies will change what we currently take for granted.
To us, the Hyperloop is real and definite cornerstone of tomorrow.
Let’s go and figure out what that will mean.
If you’re a maker and an entrepreneur, we’d like to do experiments and learn together with you. Do reach out.
If you represent a large company that want to not only survive the rapidly changing present but thrive in the tomorrow, we’d like to help.
There is only make.
Recommended further reading
People & accounts to follow via Twitter
- Elon Musk, the grand wizard
- Official Hyperloop Twitter account, hosted by SpaceX
- Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, official account
- Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
- Bebop Giresta, COO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
- Hyperloop Tech, official account
- Shirvin Pishevar, co-founder of Hyperloop Tech
- Brogan Bambrogan, CTO of Hyperloop Tech
- Rob Lloyd, CEO of Hyperloop Tech
- Josh Giegel, VP at Hyperloop Tech
- Tamara Clay, Director of HR at Hyperloop Tech