Hyperloop, a train that would use next-generation levitating technology, seemed like a pipe dream when it was first floated as an idea in 2013 by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who founded Tesla Motors.
The concept was to send a train in a large pipe, elevated on pylons. Air would be removed from the pipes, and a mix of solar power and magnets would enable the train to move at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour. The system would, in theory, let a train go between Pittsburgh and Chicago in only 45 minutes.
Today Musk's pipe dream took a more plausible turn with the announcement that Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT) -- the company furthest along in pursuing the concept -- has licensed and received a critical technology: passive magnetic levitation (or maglev).
The passive levitation system was first built by a team at Lawrence Livermore National Labs, which has been cooperating with HTT to build test systems using passive maglev. This video from the company, first shown on CNBC, shows the purported advantages:
Today's high-speed trains -- primarily in Japan and China -- rely on maglev systems that are typically supported by magnetic repulsion and propelled by a linear motor. These systems are costly, requiring long stretches of copper coil and power supply stations spread along the length of the track.
Hyperloop minimizes the necessary infrastructure by placing the train in a tube and generating movement with magnets. No power stations are necessary, and aluminum is used instead of copper.
This maglev design also boosts safety, according to HTT. If the power failed, Hyperloop pods would still levitate and slow down gradually, rather than experience an abrupt stop.
One team of engineers plans to test the concepts at a Las Vegas industrial park later this year. But experts say that Hyperloop is at least a decade away from being commercially viable, if ever.