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Future transportation concepts, and more recently the ‘Hyperloop’ system proposed by Tesla/SpaceX can be highly controversial, risky and sometimes more of a publicity stunt to advance and promote research and development of a particular government or private enterprise.

‘Hyperloop’ itself is not a new idea by far, it is simply the brand name coined by the joint Tesla/SpaceX team to their implementation, and of those of which to be similar and compatible systems developed by other academic research teams in recent years.

The short of it is that ‘Hyperloop’ is a magnetically levitating train that travels within a vacuum tube instead of free air in order to avoid the resistance of friction

In the case we are reporting on today the train is simply a single passenger-less prototype/test vehicle.

VICHYPER is the student engineer team spun out of RMIT University Melbourne, backed by Australian and International global sponsors from the technology and transportation sectors. Competing in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, VICHYPER's efforts were rewarded by being the only finalists from the Southern Hemisphere.

I had the opportunity to see their pod vehicle at CeBIT 2017 and interviewed one of the mechanical engineers on the project where we discussed the concept of maglev and vacuum transportation as well as the design and features of the vehicle and that interview is presented below.

We discuss how the vehicles systems work, the concept of a Hyperloop/vac train and engineering aspects behind the vehicle and system as a whole.

Remebering past 'future' transport research and concepts

While I am proud as an Australian to see the home team trying to beat the yanks at their own game, I have followed this subject personally for some time and I sure do have my own two cents plus tax on the matter.

Almost every form of advanced land transportation developed through the 20th century has failed to get past initial or prototype/demonstration phase. As I am writing this story I am struggling to think of any exceptions to this rule. High Speed Rail, which is conventional steel wheel-on-rail up to 200MPH/350KPH does not count as this is an evolution of conventional legacy technology.

Even if we look at air transportation, supersonic transport was a relative failure if we consider the costs required to run Concorde and its eventual tragic demise plus the epic failures of the Soviet Tu-144 ‘Concordski’ and American Boeing 2707 Super Sonic Transports.
The original objective of all these projects was to commoditise supersonic transport and as of 2017 this has failed to materialise, so we can consider all three a failure despite Concorde being able to turn around its financial woes in its final years.

Atomic powered aircraft also fits into this category, having never progressed past very early initial research stages by both the US Atomic Energy Commission/US Air Force with a converted B-36 Peacemaker bomber that carried an experimental nuclear reactor and the USSR who had a Tu-95 Bear similarly fitted. Nuclear powered Jet Engines were developed and tested by General Electric for the former before the entire program was cancelled.

Getting back down to earth. The 20th century has seen a variety of weird and wacky rail concept vehicles. We had a strange railcar which used a single wheel rather than two wheels on an axle, like a bicycle which self-balanced itself. Obviously this never took off.

In 1931, the German Schienenzeppelin acheived a world record for a petrol powered rail vehiche of 230KMH, which still stands to this day. Yes, the name of the vehicle is apt, given it looks like essentially a zepplin on rails with a BMW aircraft engine and un-protected propeller sticking out the back . Obviously, modern transport does not have large and fast spinning propellers near people for obvious reasons and this concept never took off.

Post World War II there were many land transport concepts which either never got off the drawing board or never materialised into sales other than a prototype/demonstrator vehicle.

Atomic powered trains were conceived but seemed too expensive and problematic in urban areas.

The 60s and 70s especially assisted with an aerospace boom and fuel crisis saw initial developments into alternate wheel on rail propulsion such as gas turbines vehicles, electric monorails, mag-lev and even rocket power.

Some cities have recently demolished their monorail systems, citing age of vehicles/spare parts, inflexibility and poor routing as excuses, despite other cities using the same systems successfully. Sydney, Australia is a guilty party to these claims. In such cases, monorails have been replaced with nothing or light/heavy rail systems.


Some of the more wacky proposals where to dig tunnels through the surface of the earth emerging at some other point on the globe. Large tubular vehicles would carry passengers and cargo through this vacuum tubes with gravity assist and this was supposed to solve all the world’s long distance travel problems.


Things got so desperate from a scientific research POV by the early 80s following the oil crisis of the 70s that experiments into modern steam locomotives were conducted. Stabilisation of the fuel market and developments in solid state technology such as Fuel Injection, Emissions control and Traction Control which enhanced fuel economy and performance negated this thinking very quickly

Of all these concepts, it was the European Maglev system which held the most promise to be affordable, green and fast transportation system the future for the citizens, systems promised on every continent. In reality only China built a system in 2004 that carries fare paying passengers to this day but required with heavy support from Germany and the manufacturer Siemens. The original maglev demonstration track in Emsland, Germany that was operational for almost 40yrs, named TransRapid has since been demolished earlier this decade finally cementing the concept as a market failure despite the world overall rail speed record still held by Japanese research maglev vehicle.

So I come full circle back to vac-train and Hyperloop. It’s a reimaging of an old vac train concept we mentioned above. ‘Reports on the internet’ indicate that SpaceX/Tesla test track is rusting away now that competitions have been concluded and even that was not a model of a real world setup.

There are too many environmental, regulatory and cost restrictions to bring a Hyperloop system to reality, but that doesn’t mean one should stop trying. The VICHYPER pod we discussed in this video is full of equipment and in no means possible can fit a person or cargo. The VICHYPER team even wound their own linear motors versus using ‘off the shelf’ parts. We are a long way from this stage, decades, and by then who knows what will happen by then.

At least this concept uses semi proven technology (linear motors, mag-lev) and from that provides a stable basis for ongoing research, other than some pie in the sky revolutionary tech which is still in a theoretical stage.

As far as Australia is concerned, a hyperloop, maglev or conventional High Speed Rail route let alone a network is not happening in the next 10 to 20 years. My lifetime, who knows. Stranger things have happened.