Originally published on Gas2.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) says it has created a new material that is ten times stronger than steel but 5 times lighter than aluminum. Think about that for a minute. Assuming those claims can be verified, and also assuming the material is not otherworldly expensive, it may take the place of carbon fiber the way Saran Wrap displaced waxed paper.
First, some clarification. HTT is the company headed by Dirk Ahlborn. It is building a test track in southern California and operates on a crowdsourced funding model. The other hyperloop company is headed by Rob Lloyd and is building a test track in Nevada near Las Vegas. It was previously known as Hyperloop Technologies, but the confusion between the two companies got too much for everyone involved. It has recently changed its name to Hyperloop One.
Got that? Good. Let’s move on. HTT says its new material was developed in cooperation with a company in Slovakia called c2i. There is more to the Slovakian connection. More about that in a minute.
The Hyperloop is the brainchild of Elon Musk. He has a penchant for catchy sounding names taken from popular culture. The audio controls on his Tesla automobiles go all the way to 11, a riff on the movie Spinal Tap. They also have various high performance modes taken from the Mel Brooks Star Wars spoof, Space Balls. The first was called Insane Mode. Now Tesla buyers can opt (for an extra ten grand) to have their cars outfitted with a Ludicrous Mode upgrade. At some point, a new Tesla option will be called Maximum Plaid. You will need to watch Space Balls again to understand all this.
In the world of Hyperloop competition, the custom is to use sci-fi terms for various components. Hyperloop One uses names like Blade Runner, the Levitation Rig, and the Tube Lab to describe some of its equipment. HTT calls its space age new material Vibranium. As any popular culture junkie knows, this is the name of the Wakandan rare earth metal that helps Captain America and Black Panther conquer their foes.
The company says its Hyperloop pods will be constructed from two layers of Vibranium, one for the exterior skin and one to complete the interior. The space in between will presumably be filled with Slime in honor of the movie Ghost Busters. It will have an array of sensors built in that will constantly monitor stability, temperature and integrity. If any defects are detected, that information will be transmitted instantly to Mission Control so corrective action can be taken when the pod reaches the next station.
Here’s the rest of the Slovakian connection. HTT signed an agreement with the government in March to explore the possibility of building two Hyperloop routes connecting the capital, Bratislavia, with Vienna and Budapest. Vienna to Bratislava is 35 miles in a straight line. The Hyperloop could make the trip in 8 minutes. Budapest is 100 miles away as the crow flies. That trip would take a mere ten minutes. (A certain amount of time has to be allowed to get the pod up to speed and then bring it to a halt without subjecting passengers to uncomfortable g-loads.)
The Hyperloop still seems like the stuff of fantasy. But science fiction has a way of becoming reality over time. The Nautilus atomic powered submarine once existed only in the mind of Jules Verne. Who knows how this story will turn out? The Hyperloop may never come into being, but Vibranium could be an important new material that alters how lots of things get made. Just think of the possibilities in the world of transportation, where cutting the weight of vehicles is critical to achieving increased fuel economy with fewer emissions.
Thanks and tip of the hat to Lief Hansen, who first brought this story to my attention.
Reprinted with permission.
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