Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017 | 2 a.m.
The technological dream of hyperloop transport does not belong solely to Hyperloop One, but the company’s investment in testing at Apex Industrial Park north of the valley makes it the speed merchant of interest in Southern Nevada.
That investment apparently will persist long after what the company hopes is a successful first test of its technology at the end of March.
Nick Earle, Hyperloop One’s senior vice president of global field operations, said Tuesday at a kickoff event for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that the company plans to locate its research and development facility at Apex permanently. Hyperloop One aims to transport freight in its tubes by 2020, with plans to move people at speeds faster than a jumbo jet in 2021.
“It’s a long-term commitment to Apex,” Earle said. “That will be our R&D test lab. We’ll be continually using that. That’s our big outdoor R&D testing area.”
Earle said Hyperloop One’s facility at Apex will include testing of incremental steps in technology necessary to fully achieve its ambitious vision: A self-driving pod that travels at speeds up to 800 mph being delivered directly to your home when the pod detaches from its group at a destination portal and travels on the road to complete your journey.
To do that, Hyperloop One cannot just move in one straight line — eventually, the pods must be able to move in a V-shape via magnetism, akin to a train switching tracks while moving.
“At these sorts of speeds, it’s not like rail,” Earle said. “You can’t have tracks that move. You don’t have time for that. I mean, this thing’s flying.”
Switching represents just one of the challenges for Hyperloop One. Such lofty potential as promised by its founders requires a litany of proof, however, that happens slowly and over a period of many years.
“It will get bigger over time,” Earle said. “We’ll extend it to several kilometers, multiple tracks. Who knows, we might have a track for freight and a track for passengers. We might build portals out there.”
Hyperloop One acquired 50 acres of land at Apex to build its test track in late 2015 and opened a 105,000-square-foot manufacturing plant known as Hyperloop One Metalworks in North Las Vegas last summer. The company released a video of its first successful open-air test in May, showing a metal test sled speeding down a track at 116 mph before coming to a water-aided stop after 1,000 yards.
While encouraging for Hyperloop engineers, that test did not crack the mysterious code of levitating a pod within a pressure-reduced steel tube and propelling it with a linear electric motor. Getting a pod fully up and running encompasses the company’s March test goal.
“There’s not going to be a big public event,” Earle said. “Our goal is that, by the end of March, we will have a pod moving at very high speed in a pressure-reduced tube, levitating and braking. If we do that, that is the equivalent of Kitty Hawk because from then on, everything is an incremental improvement on that. That’s our goal for the next three months.”