Hyperloop Transportation Technologies plans to set up R&D Lab in Bengaluru

HTT to bring the next generation of transport in India for super-fast transportation system by 2021, says Rob Lloyd, CEO & Board Member of Hyperloop One
Rob Lloyd, CEO, Hyperloop One

BENGALURU: An overseas technology firm, working on a new mode of passenger and freight transportation at airline speeds at a cheap price, plans to set up a research and development centre in Bengaluru.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), established by California-based JumpStarter based on the technology envisioned by Tesla founder Elon Musk, is already in talks with the Ministry of Transport for land to test the technology.

Hyperloop is a concept that uses a pod-like vehicle travelling through near-vacuum that’s contained within a tube. It can be used for high-speed passenger and freight transportation.

California-based Hyperloop One, which is developing the concept, plans to deploy the transport solution on the Kolkata-Chennai freight route, to begin with.

Rob Lloyd, CEO & Board Member of Hyperloop One, talks about the company’s plan to harness the potential of the world’s densely populated geography through the technology. Excerpts:

How soon can Hyperloop get going?

We are leaving here with the plan to get going. We work on project ideas and get the answers for questions that have been asked, like how much investment, when etc.

We are prepared to make an investment in the next phase of development. We need right-of-way for the project to get going. As India is one of the most densely populated countries, we have to look at different ways to make Hyperloop a reality.

We have earmarked the freight-oriented route from Kolkata to Chennai for the project. We are looking at where the transportation quarters can be built.

When can India get its first Hyperloop?

Our objective is to have the first Hyperloop in production by 2021. It would be perhaps on the major junctions on the Kolkata-Chennai route.

What makes you feel so confident that the timing for such a technology is ripe in India? How sustainable is the technology?

One of the barriers to attracting manufacturing jobs to this country is logistics and infrastructure, which are not at the level that most companies need for transportation of goods.

So, if you really want to build a manufacturing set-up here, there is a need to upgrade infrastructure. The reason it is perfect for India is because there is a vision to increase the manufacturing base in this country.

We will look to partner with a country who wants the first-mover advantage for this technology and the launch of our company is an invitation to India for taking the first-mover advantage. Other countries are competing to be first-movers as we speak.

How do you anticipate the response, especially keeping in mind the price-sensitive Indian customer?

If we participate with Indian engineering and development early on, that would help us to make this a very inclusive mode of transportation for everyone.

The cost of a Hyperloop ticket would be comparable to the cost of a train or a bus ticket and not an air ticket. Train tickets are very inexpensive in India. Therefore, the cost cannot be compared. But it is the model that we follow world over.

Have you faced any bureaucratic hurdles?

We have just started. We have had very encouraging meetings. I am not naïve. I am aware of the complexities of government decision making in India. We are here with both our eyes wide open. What will work is top-down support.

How involved is Elon Musk with the Hyperloop project?

Elon Musk is the originator of the idea; he created an open source model to encourage minds to explore this. He is not involved with our company.

He is not an investor but he is a cheerleader of the fact that Hyperloop can become a reality.

Support from Indian government

Hyperloop One was founded in 2014 and today its has 225 employees. announced a global challenge last year where it invited teams to pitch in their ideas to deploy Hyperloop in their region of interest. Out of the 2,300 applicants, 35 teams were finalised out of which 5 Indian teams were present at today’s event in New Delhi. The final teams will get support from Hyperloop One to actually make their vision a reality.

The company has also got support from the Indian government as the minister of railways, Suresh Prabhu and CEO of Niti Aayog, Amitabh Kant were present at the event and said that they are excited by the concept. “We are committed to Hyperloop and open to help out in any way possible,” said Amitabh Kant at the event.

In a one on one interaction, the CEO Rob Lloyd told us that in a short time of just 2 years, the company has grown to over 200 employees and how this is a small step towards a bigger opportunity.

“The response that we got from India has been excellent and we are very excited to work with more people to make Hyperloop a reality. The concept of Skill India and Make in India will be highly considered and we would like to provide opportunities in the future.”

He also said that there is a proposal where Hyperloop One will establish factories and R&D centres in the country for efficient deployment.

The financial and environmental costs

Hyperloop is considered to be quite efficient, apart from being super fast, it will take up less space and will be financially sound as it will run completely on electricity. Of course the cost required to construct and operate will mostly depend on the route and application. Research claims that it would be 60 percent that of high-speed rail and would be less expensive to operate. It will also be on-demand which means that unlike trains that follow a schedule, a Hyperloop pod could be deployed whenever the passengers require with departures as quick as every 20 seconds. Just like the metro has various stations in a city, a Hyperloop network will have cities and towns as one station.

It would consumer less energy as there is no need of constructing tracks, and it uses minimal electrical energy to power the system. Upon asking about a possibility of utilisation of solar energy, the CEO said that it is definitely under consideration.

Positive impact on the job market

So how will this help? Apart from reducing travel times to as much as 10 times, Hyperloop would help in creating and improving job opportunities. Frequent business travellers could save time and improve productivity. Transport of goods that take 14 days could be reduced to just 14 hours. Hyperloop One is also considering to make the pods in India and sees a scope of software development once the project is underway.

The event also showcased five Hyperloop One Global Challenge semi-finalist teams from India, each of which proposed high-speed transportation routes in India. The teams had to develop regional proposals integrating the transport technology to move passengers and freight from point-to-point smoothly. The Hyperloop One Global Challenge which was announced back in May 2016 inviting teams across the world to put forward viable transport plans covering economical and policy aspects of their respective regions and countries. Out of 2,600 registrants from 90 countries, Hyperloop One has come down to 35 semi-finalists with India leading the way with the highest number of registrants and the most vocal supporters on social media.

The finalists from India include:

  • AECOM – Bengaluru-to-Chennai: 334 km in 20 minutes. Meeting the demand of a passenger and freight super-corridor growing at 15 percent a year.
  • LUX Hyperloop Network – Bengaluru-to-Thiruvananthapuram: 736 km in 41 minutes. Connects two major ports in southern India with population centres of Coimbatore and Kochi.
  • Dinclix GroundWorks – Delhi-to-Mumbai via Jaipur and Indore: 1,317 km in 55 minutes. Freight and passengers. Connects two megacities and creates seaport access for landlocked intermediary cities in the interior.
  • Hyperloop India – Mumbai-to-Chennai via Bengaluru: 1,102 km. 50 minutes. Phased development for freight and passengers. Boosts capacity at ports of Mumbai and Chennai, creates a Suez Canal-like link between India’s coasts.
  • Infi-Alpha – Bengaluru to Chennai: 334 km in 20 minutes. Meeting the demand of a passenger and freight super-corridor growing at 15 percent a year. Connects with major airports.

HTT Chairman and Co-Founder Bibop G Gresta told that there is an immediate requirement to de-humanise the transportation sector. “Bengaluru is one of the places on the planet where we can see a huge number of talent and thriving startup ecosystems. I would like to establish an R&D centre in Bengaluru and I am also looking for investors,” he said.

He pointed out that India has an amazing opportunity in the transportation sector because of three factors — density of population, scarcity of infrastructure and a growing demand for transportation. “Even though the government has decided to invest huge money on high-speed rail and traditional railways, I believe the money spent will not give enough returns,” he said. Gresta had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Silicon Valley and expressed his wish to join hands.

“I have already submitted a proposal to Minister for Road Transport Nitin Gadkari for land and (I’m) ready to do the rest once I get permission. I assure you that HTT can transport people from Pune to Bengaluru in half an hour,” he said.

HTT is the largest company ever built upon a collaborative business ecosystem and coordinates with a team of over 600 professionals from 40 countries. It plans to come up with a new form of transport based on the principle of sending a vehicle at high-speed through an evacuated tube.

To encourage startups, he said HTT plans to launch Hyperloop Innovation Lab and Hyper Loop Academy in India. “We will launch a programme called Hyperloop Academy for India soon. People can submit their ideas and they can work with our engineers,” he said.

He said the company has right now 25 engineers working on the HTT project. “Lots of requests are coming from India. It is our crowd-sourcing initiative to our mothership project Hyperloop,” he said.

When asked about JumpStart Fund, Gresta said it has identified a few companies in the area of tube manufacturing, material design and engineering. “We have identified half a dozen startups and will reveal their names soon,” he said.