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Hyperloop One says they can be ready within 5 years

Hyperloop One, a company trying to bring Elon Musk's "pipe" dream of high-speed transportation via a super-sized tube to market, is looking for believers.

The company knows it needs transportation regulators on its side and it's also a crucial time to bend the ear of those looking seriously at a major infrastructure package. So the company's executives talked at a glitzy event in Washington, D.C. on Thursday about why they see their potential product as revolutionary for transportation.

The dream: The basic concept involves capsules carrying cargo or passengers through a frictionless tube at speeds of roughly 750 miles per hour, connecting 80% of the U.S. population in five hours or less. In Hyperloop One's plan, "pods" would transport 6 to 100 passengers between destinations. There would also be off-ramps so people could be ferried more precisely to their destination. Riding in a "Hyperpod" would be like sitting in a living room or a lounge, the company says. Families can "think of it as a long-distance minivan."

Data: Hyperloop One; Map: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

When: Within five years. "Brass tacks is we've got to make some strategic decisions as to where we think we can place some bets towards the end of this year and into 2018, where we can start the actual construction process in 2018 or [2019] and have a service up and running in 2020 and 2021," CEO Rob Lloyd told Axios.

Where: The company has discussed bringing the idea to many foreign countries and has designs in the United States. Eleven stateside groups have proposed routes that are among a group of global teams in the running to receive support from the company.

The shortest, at 64 miles, runs between Providence and Boston, while the longest would cover the Rockies over 1,152 miles. The teams behind the proposals range from a group of University of Washington students to staff members from the Nevada governor's office.

The reality: This technology has a long way to go. The company just completed a test track in Nevada where it will hold a major test-run this summer. The company is calling that test its "Kitty-Hawk" moment in a not-so-subtle comparison to the Wright Brothers.

Challenges:

  • Addressing safety concerns: Regulators are going to be concerned with whether this ultra-fast transportation method is safe. The company is hoping that it can build it hand-in-hand with regulators. "It's hard to make the safety case when the technology isn't yet fully built," said Lloyd. "So the normal mode is, 'Show us your train and tell us how it's going to be safe."
  • Getting political support: Buy-in from local and federal regulators is key. Lloyd said that his goal is lining up Hyperloop with government programs that already exist and "then creating this collaborative co-creation process around the safety certification is required."
  • Figuring out technical challenges: CNN's Matt McFarland notes that the company will need to make sure that a vacuum stays constant in the tubes and that it has to figure out how to deal with turns without causing discomfort for its customers.
  • Answering questions about integration: Earle noted that people question whether you can put a Hyperloop network underground (the company thinks you can) and whether passengers would need to catch their ride from a central station rather than a station close to their house.

The bottom line: Despite the outstanding technological and regulatory questions, Hyperloop One executives are optimistic. Lloyd cited how quickly the company was able to get approval for its test facility in Nevada (which took 6 months).

"That's the kind of mentality that we want to see, and if we can get that at the right level — top-down support — this thing's going to happen," said Lloyd. "What keeps me up at night is that's difficult. What encourages me is that there's a groundswell of support from people and that there is an open channel for top-down support."
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