CEO Brogan BamBrogan promises “unique take” on hyperloop technology
2016 was a decidedly mixed year for Hyperloop One, the company leading the race to build a superfast, vacuum-tube transportation mechanism. On the one hand it completed a successful public test of its machinery in May, propelling a sled at a top speed of 116 mph, reached in just 1.9 seconds. This represented an important proof of concept for an especially difficult piece of technology
On the other hand, the founding team collapsed in a series of acrimonious lawsuits, which were finally settled last November. One co-founder, Brogan BamBrogan accused a handful of his colleagues of attempting to “augment their personal brands, enhance their romantic lives, and line their pockets (and those of their family members)”. He even alleges that CEO Shervin Pishevar and his brother Afshin threatened him personally with a hangman’s noose.
Last week, however, BamBrogan launched Arrivo, a rival hyperloop start-up based less than a mile from his old company in Los Angeles. The former Space X engineer will be joined by a number of other departing members of the Hyperloop One team, including Nima Bahrami, Knut Sauer, William Mulholland and David Pendergast. Also on Arrivo’s founding team are Jadon Smith, another former Space X engineer who once worked for the CIA and Andrew Liu, former vice-president at AECOM, the company that developed Space X’s own hyperloop test track.
BamBrogan himself is optimistic about his new project. He has drawn up an ambitious growth plan, aiming to have 30 engineers on board by July and a total of 80 employees by December. He is promising a “unique take” on hyperloop transportation, although exactly what this means for a technology that has yet to be developed at all was left unsaid.
Having attended the Space X hyperloop pod competition last month – at which college engineering teams tested their own designs on the Space X track – BamBrogan is now convinced that the theoretical physics behind the technology is settled. As a result, he says his company will aim primarily to “commercialize and bring some epic value to projects in the US and around the world as well”. His focus on branding Arrivo as a specifically American company is significant as well, as Hyperloop One has aimed squarely at international projects in Russia, Slovakia and the United Arab Emirates.
Hyperloop dreams derailed?
Whilst similar concepts have existed for decades in both engineering circles and science fiction tales, modern excitement surrounding the hyperloop can be attributed to Elon Musk. His vision –which is largely adhered to by Hyperloop One – is of aerodynamic aluminium capsules hurtling through a near-vacuum at around the speed of sound. By his estimations, a good hyperloop could transport people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just half an hour.
However, the technology is not without its detractors. John Hansman, a professor in aeronautics at MIT grants that the physics behind the proposal check out, but points out that the details will be extremely tricky to implement in practice. A slight alignment error in one of the tubes could disrupt the entire vacuum necessary to keep the hyperloop going, as could the tiniest bit of grime or dirt in the system. And, he asks, if the hyperloop were to break down miles from a major city, what might the consequences be? Even without this notion, there is no guarantee that travellers will be comfortable with the idea of hurtling underground at 760 mph in a small windowless pod, and it has yet to be sufficiently addressed by hyperloop engineers.
The cost of a hyperloop would probably be well in excess of Musk’s predicted US$11.5 million per mile. According to leaked documents obtained by Forbes, Hyperloop One’s Abu Dhabi to Dubai project is going to cost US$52 million per mile, making for a grand total cost of US$4.8 billion.
Nonetheless, the hyperloop hype is still palpable, and Arrivo will no doubt want to capitalise on this. According to BamBrogan, Arrivo is already in talks with unnamed investors both in the US and abroad . In addition to ferrying passengers from one city to another, BamBrogan envisions a hyperloop cargo network, which would potentially widen the company’s commercial appeal. Given the cost and scale of the project, investors would have to be especially ambitious, and only time will tell whether they will be.
Whilst it is still much to early to say whether the growing hyperloop industry will bear any fruit, last year’s successful tests have certainly sparked interest, and the more “hyperloops in the game” as BamBrogan says, the more likely the technology is to flourish.