Trends with Benefits at CES: Hyperloop CEO gives detailed look at ambitious project

Each week, we gather a roundtable of tech experts from the Digital Trends staff, along with the occasional celebrity guest, to discuss all things tech. Topics range from the big tech stories of the week to predicting the future, all while maintaining a somewhat civil decorum.

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Our latest episode of Trends with Benefits covers the third day of CES 2017. It features Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, along with Digital Trends experts Rick Stella and Greg Nibler.

Define Hyperloop: Nibler loves the concept of Hyperloop because it’s the rare technology that changes how we view something basic in our lives, in this case, transportation. He asked for a basic definition and Ahlborn asked people to imagine a capsule filled with people hovering in a tube moving at the speed of sound, with no resistance, and at a very low cost.

What propels Hyperloop?: Ahlborn said the propulsion is a linear, electromagnetic motor, and he stressed that all the technologies involved have already been invented and proven. Hyperloop is bringing the technologies together with a unique vision.

The birth of a project and a company: When Elon Musk first proposed Hyperloop, he said he was too busy with SpaceX (and Tesla) to take on the transportation tube. At the time, Ahlborn was working on a concept of crowdsourcing business startups, and that’s how they started, built, and continue to build Hyperloop. They look for people driven by passion, not money — the only requirement is to invest 10 hours a week working on the project.

The hurdles to completion: Stella wondered if acceptance and adoption are Hyperloop’s biggest obstacles. Ahlborn said the two biggest challenges are economic feasibility — making it profitable — and government regulation. No train system in the world is profitable now, according to Ahlborn, and Hyperloop can be the exception. Government regulation needs to be in place early, and he added that the prospect of fast and economical transportation has many countries interested.

More than just one technology: Ahlborn said rethinking all elements of transportation — from how ridership time is monetized to integrating with other mobility services such as ridesharing — and how they could work in and with Hyperloop, gives the company the chance to create a transportation system that is more than just a very fast train.

Where and when: Nibler wanted to know where the first working Hyperloop systems will be and when people will actually ride in them. Ahlborn mentioned three initial Hyperloop project locations, and predicted the time from project groundbreaking to beginning to carry passengers.

Will riding so fast be scary or uncomfortable?: Stella wondered if passengers would be jerked backward when Hyperloop accelerates. Ahlborn explained that even though Hyperloop can travel at 760 mph, it won’t always go at that speed, and acceleration and deceleration forces will be less than in airplanes.

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