Bibop G Gresta is chairman and co-founder of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is developing new futuristic transport pods that move faster than sound in giant vacuum tubes. Hyperloop is currently in talks with 20 countries — including India — and Gresta, who was in Bengaluru for the Carnegie Global Technology Summit, spoke to TOI about the future of transport and the chances of building a Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop network.
Hyperloop sounds like science fiction. How realistic is it and can it be built in India?
We are in negotiations with the Indian government. I met surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari, and separately Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Silicon Valley. It ended up in a proposal which is lying on their desk to evaluate. We are ready to move forward. We have given three options: we build it for government, or we build it in public-private model, or we build it on our own at our cost if we are given the land.
PM Modi has focused on bullet trains.
Hyperloop is faster, right?
It is not only faster, it is more efficient. The bullet train is not a system that can be profitable in any way: it costs too much money, consumes too much energy and is very inefficient. Above 500km/hour for trains, according to aerodynamic principles, air becomes like liquid. It is like a wall of water coming at you and there are lots of safety issues.
So how will Hyperloop be safe? Can people trust these travel capsules?
Hyperloop is the future of travel. You feel more in an airplane than what you will feel in a Hyperloop. It will be very smooth and a less exciting ride than you think.
A lot of people don’t know they are already travelling at almost the speed of sound. I travelled to India in an Airbus A380 and this airplane goes at 1,000km/hour. We are talking about going at 1,223km/hour which is not that different.
With driverless cars also being developed, how does the future of cities look to you?
In our vision ultimately, you should be able to push a button in Pune, a self-driving car picks you up, brings you up to a local Hyperloop station and you reach your destination in, say, Mumbai. Then you switch again to local transport and a self-driving car takes you to your destination. It will be Pune-Mumbai in 40 minutes. You can live in Pune and work in Mumbai or vice-versa.
What has been the reaction of various governments?
I was expecting more resistance. Governments have passed from a phase of ‘it’s cool to have you and to take a selfie with you so we can show we are innovative and let’s analyse your technology’ to saying ‘oh my god it’s happening and let’s jump on to this’. That shift has happened in three years.
We are now in negotiations with 20 countries. We have signed with Slovakia, Nigeria, Abu Dhabi and California. Abu Dhabi is putting money in the feasibility study.
How fast can we see the first deployment?
We are ready to build. We acquired the levitation system because of our crowd-sourcing model which allowed us to have access to technologies that we didn’t even think were conceivable.
Like, through the Lawrence Livermore Lab which developed the first atom bombs, we spoke to Richard Post who developed the technology used by the American government to stabilise bullets inside cannons and he told us this technology was designed originally for transportation. The crowd model allowed us to have this intelligence in real time — not just the information but also the people who can do this.
Years ago Richard Post actually spent $50 million of US government money to build a track with this technology. We were shocked. There was actually a capsule levitating on a track in San Diego which we found like this. We didn’t have to build anything. We found it, checked the parameters, got the permission to declassify and we made it.
We ask people to spend 10 hours a week of their best time while they work in their own companies. We pay them one stock for each hour they contribute. We already have 25 people from India and overall from 42 countries.
Where will it be operational first? How much will this cost?
The first one will be Abu Dhabi. It will take 38 months from the approval of permit. We are talking to 20 countries and whoever gives us land first we will go there. Costs will be different depending on whether it is built in a desert or in Switzerland with tunnels and bridges through mountains. Generically speaking, it would be about $40 million per kilometre.
Source: The Times of India
Author: Nalin Mehta