Hyperloop for Dummies (and non-engineers): How it Works

Is Elon Musk’s hyperloop system really revolutionary? We made a guide that makes it much easier to understand, so you can decide for yourself.

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What is Hyperloop?

Hyperloop is a high speed capsule that is shot through a low-pressure tube using industrial air pumps. It’s incredibly cost-effective, incredibly fast (740 miles per hour), and incredibly efficient (100% solar powered).

Why was Hyperloop Designed?

Elon Musk, founder of Paypal (first secure web payment service), Tesla (the first successful electric car company), Spacex (first private space travel company), and Solar City (one of the largest providers of household solar energy), has a tendency to address big problems. Frustrated by the proposed $60 billion california high speed rail, which is sluggish, costly, and environmentally horrible, he designed his own system to provide a better solution.

How Does Hyperloop Work?

Hyperloop is kind of like an air hockey puck, in terms of how it’s propelled. Capsules float by pumping air through side channels to overcome gravity. Giant energy efficient motors and pumps propel the capsule through a very low pressure tube. The low pressure allows the tube to move at 740 miles per hour.

Friction(normally an issue at high speeds)  is completely overcome by placing an air compressor at the front of the capsule. Like the wind in your face while riding in a bike, or a fast boat, normally a system like this would be slowed by the air it hits, and heat would be generated. The air compressor pumps in the excess air, compresses it (sucks it in, and squeezes it), and uses that same air to further propel the capsule to its cruising speed.

Hyperloop capsules break, and come to a stop by reversing the effect. Those same motors can be used to change air flow, and slow the capsule. In addition, extension on the capsule pump air to create resistance and slow the capsule down.

What’s it like to be a hyperloop passenger? Is Hyperloop comfortable?

Hyperloop is very nice for passenger. Each car has only 28 passengers, meaning that it isn’t too cramped or crowded, compared to planes (which may have ten times as many people onboard). Personal entertainment systems are provided, making it easy to occupy the 35 minute ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco. In addition, noise cancelling systems make the ride quiet, and though there are no windows, “beautiful landscapes”, will occupy the walls, making the ride more comfortable.

Why is the hyperloop revolutionary?

  • Hyperloop can carry both vehicles, and people, meaning that you can bring your car along for the ride.

  • Hyperloop is far cheaper than air travel, and has 0 environmental impact.

  • Hyperloop is far safer than highspeed rail. Trains derail (like the deadly derailments in Europe last month), and pose a risk to animals as well. Hyperloop is fully enclosed, and immune to weather, earthquakes, and other serious incidents.

  • At 700 mph, Hyperloop is quintuple (5x) the speed of air travel, at a far lower cost

  • Current designs mean far smaller land requirements, and little noise impact (far less than planes and trains)

This is a highly simplified guide. For the full details, read this 60 page report on how it works.

More on Elon Musk:


Michael Sitver

Michael Sitver is a technology insider who has been blogging about technology since 2011. Along the way, he's interviewed founders of innovative startups, and executives from fortune 500 companies, and he's tried dozens or hundreds of gadgets. Michael has also contributed to works featured in Newsday, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the associated press. Michael also occasionally consults, and writes for Seeking Alpha and Yahoo News.

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9 Responses

  1. MGA says:

    “At 700 mph, Hyperloop is quintuple (5x) the speed of air travel, at a far lower cost”

    Definitely not… That’s pretty much the same speed as air travel.

    • appstorechronicle says:

      Listed flight time for SFO is 1 hr and 15 minutes. Factor in standard delays, taxi time to and from the gate (which takes a while at SFO and LAX) and the fact that you have to get to the airport 1 hour + prior to boarding, and the total trip time from airport to airport is around 2+ hours. Boarding for the hyperloop is immediate, and the total trip length is about 35 minutes, plus 5 minutes for boarding. Not quite quintuple, but close.

    • appstorechronicle says:

      Listed flight time for SFO is 1 hr and 15 minutes. Factor in standard delays, taxi time to and from the gate (which takes a while at SFO and LAX) and the fact that you have to get to the airport 1 hour + prior to boarding, and the total trip time from airport to airport is around 2+ hours. Boarding for the hyperloop is immediate, and the total trip length is about 35 minutes, plus 5 minutes for boarding. Not quite quintuple, but close.

      • Kiro says:

        Lets say 4x since you can technically arrive at the airport within 35 minutes of departure assuming you’re already checked in via web check-in lol.

    • appstorechronicle says:

      Airplanes only fly 500-600 MPH, which is a significantly slower speed, and they circle slower for takeoff and landing. Not to mention that airplanes don’t fly straight. Airplanes have to follow very specific coordinates to avoid residential areas (because of noise concerns), and fly in the proper airspace, so a flight is longer even distancewise.

    • Tom Gregory says:

      sfo to lax in 35 minutes/Hyperloop vs 45 minutes /Southwest the last time i flew = (45-35)/45 =~ 22% faster, definetly not 500%.

      IMHO, Hyperloop is a very serious competitor to any transportation system, considering that it has no fuel cost or crew cost.

  2. Tom Gregory says:

    Hperloop is a pod in a tube containing 1000 times less air than at sea level. The drag on the pod as it passes thru the tube is thereby reduced (but not eliminated). The pod is accelerated and decelerated by electrical currents in coils that cause magnetic forces at the magnetic nodes/poles in a linear track (Similar to an electic motor, which has a circular track of nodes/poles).

    Giant motors and pumps DO NOT propell the pod. The turbines and compressors just reduce the pressure build up in front of the pod (drag) if the air did not pass thru the pod.

    • appstorechronicle says:

      Because of the leaks in the system that would be inevitable at stations, in areas with stations it is propelled a bit by pumps. Also, air from the compressor is pumped to create a jet of air between a pod’s skis, and the tube walls.

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