The possible future of transit zipped along a short track in the desert outside Las Vegas on Wednesday before sliding to a stop in a bed of sand, sending up a tan wave.
Hyperloop One, a start-up hoping to revolutionize transport systems, held its first public test of engine components being designed to rocket pods carrying people or cargo through tubes at speeds of 700 miles per hour (1,125 kilometers) or more.
The company hopes to realize a futuristic vision laid out three years ago by billionaire Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car company Tesla and private space exploration endeavor Space X.
“This is a significant moment for us as a team,” Hyperloop co-founder Shervin Pishevar said to an invitation-only crowd seated in grandstand seats set up opposite the length of electrified track.
“We are standing on hallowed ground for us; the team has worked incredibly hard to get to what we call our Kitty Hawk preview.”
The US town of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina went down in history as the locale where the Wright brothers made the first successful flight of a powered plane in 1903.
The test under the Nevada desert sun was a step in developing a propulsion system that would give super high-speed motion to passenger or cargo pods gliding above magnetically charged rails enclosed in tubes.
A sled bracketed to the rail was slung into motion using magnetic force generated by engines referred to as “stators” set in a line at the start of the track.
Eventually the sled, which will evolve into a chassis of sorts for a pod, will accelerate to more than 400 miles an hour in a few seconds, according to Hyperloop One co-founder Brogan BamBrogan.
The long-term vision for Hyperloop One – which is competing with another firm to be the first to bring the system to life – is to have something that moves at near-supersonic speeds.
“When you think about passengers traveling on this, you will feel no more acceleration than you would on an airplane taking off,” BamBrogan said after the successful test.
After accelerating, the pods will essentially glide for long distances, making for smooth rides and low power consumption, according to BamBrogan.
“The goal of this test isn’t just to move this sled,” he said. “It is to engineer an acceleration system that is scalable for passengers and freight and to bring the cost down.”
Hyperloop One promised a full-scale, full-speed test involving two kilometers of tube-enclosed track at the desert site by the end of this year.
“Today, we are one step closer to making Hyperloop real,” said the start-up’s chief executive Rob Lloyd.
“We will be moving cargo in 2019, and we think we will have passengers safely transported by Hyperloop in 2021.”