BUSINESS

India has just what hyperloop needs

When Bibop Gresta, chairman and co-founder of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT) met Union minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari in the Silicon Valley, Mr. Gadkari mistook him for Tesla Motors Inc.’s founder Elon Musk. Mr. Gresta clarified his identity and now his California-based start-up is in talks with the transport ministry to build the hyperloop transportation system in India. HTT’s system is based on the hyperloop concept, which was envisioned by Elon Musk. It is a new mode of passenger transportation that pushes a pod-like vehicle through a near-vacuum tube at airline speeds. According to Mr. Gresta, India needed such system. He has experienced the country’s transportation problem first-hand when he landed in Bengaluru this month and had to travel by car from the airport. “Oh my God, it was crazy, I took forever. You guys drive like there is no tomorrow,” he said. Edited excerpts.

Why do you want to set up the hyperloop system in India?

India has amazing potentialities right now because it has the right density, the lack of infrastructure and the political willingness to change. This combination of factors could be disruptive in a country that we know would be leading the world in the next few decades. India has everything in terms of the resources and minds. It is a responsibility to embrace innovation because it is the only way to actually fix the problem.

Have you discussed it with the government?

I actually met Mr. Modi (the Prime Minister) in the Silicon Valley and Mr. Gadkari (Union minister of transport and highways). Mr. Gadkari demonstrated a big interest for hyperloop and he also said it publicly. We have had a proposal on his table for a couple of weeks. We had a very long commercial conversation with Mr. Gadkari. He said he wants to do it. He said that he is ready to give us land. So, we have to see if he wants to do it or not.

Considering infrastructure challenges, can it happen in India?

It needs to happen, this is the country that needs it more. How can you fix the problem? It is not building other roads. This system is broken in every possible way. The rails are not a viable way to fix the problem as you see it. They are too expensive and are not profitable and are subsidised by the state. We need a system that can be profitable which is efficient and fast and that is hyperloop and we are ready to build it.

We have read about such systems in science fiction books, how far is it from reality?

We have the technology. We are the only company that owns the trademark hyperloop in 20 countries, including India. We are the only company that has licensed technology tested by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. We have the vacuums made by a labelled company that is the inventor of the vacuum pumps. We have all the elements to build hyperloop. We are not inventing anything new. We are putting together technology that already exists. We are doing it in a very smart and efficient way. We can actually build it right now. There is criticism that you will never be able to build it right away. Well, I have bad news for these naysayers. Hyperloop can be built on top of existing infrastructure like rail, highway and can be built (along)side. For example a highway between Pune and Mumbai... Give us the land and we will build.

Globally over a million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes, can this system save lives?

You have to understand 80 percent of the fatalities are caused by human error. We are completely managed by computers and supervised by humans. Our system implements what we call ‘swarm intelligence’ like the ants or the bees. The ants are capable of forming a line and with antennas and pheromones, they are able to communicate almost at the speed of sound. We are using a similar system. The first capsule analyses the tube and communicates to the next one. It is not only capable of controlling the systems through sensors and the mothership but in the case of lost communications, the capsules are intelligent (enough) to react, slow down and stop. You are always able to stop the capsule and evacuate the people safely.

But don’t you think high-speed trains like in Japan and China make more sense?

You have to imagine, in our system, you don’t need an electrified truck on the ground like the high-speed rail that uses too much energy. It costs too much because you have to bring the system to superconductivity. The hyperloop is a very simple system. Imagine you have a capsule full of people and you put it inside a tube. You evacuate the tube from the air so there is no resistance.

Now you can move the capsule at the speed of sound with very less energy. We are using a combination of renewable energy to produce electricity with the solar panel, the wind and the capsule also generates electricity while moving.

Could you give the cost comparison?

We should talk about where you are building it. Are you building it in Switzerland with mountains, bridges and tunnels or you are building it in a desert? But on average you can talk about $40 million per kilometre compared to high-speed train which costs two times (as much) when we are lucky or six times when we are unlucky like in California.

Are you working with any partners in India on hyperloop technology?

We have 25 people working from India as part of our contribution programme. Besides our own employees, we also have a crowdsourcing approach. We have a community of almost 800 people. We have a programme called the hyperloop academy. We want to launch it in India to allow students to join our team and compete on developing and solving tasks related to the real hyperloop.

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