In the beginning.
Back in 2013, billionaire and serial tech entrepreneur Elon Musk had an idea that will disrupt public transportation. He kept working on it until 2015 when he realized that his crazy schedules at his other companies, Space X and Tesla would not allow him bring his new idea to the market. But to the market the idea must go. So he threw the gauntlet to students all over the world. He called it the Hyperloop Pod Competition (2015).
According to Musk,
“The competition’s goal is to support the development of functional prototypes and encourage innovation by challenging student teams to design and build the best high-speed Pod
The first three competitions were held in January 2017, August 2017, and July 2018. In the summer of this year, the fourth edition of the competition will take place.
Unlike the 10-year photo challenge which got the attention of Nigerians on social media, the Hyperloop challenge, something that will dramatically alter the future of travelling, fell through the cracks of media trending stories.
Only one Nigerian who is also only one of two Africans was reported to have taken up the challenge. (I have not been able to verify this claim yet). He was said to have collaborated with other engineers around the world he met on Reddit, entered the competition as non-students and the group’s design was picked among 21 other successful entries in 2017 according to some reports.
That Nigerian is OLUWATOBI OYINLOLA, an Electronics and Telecommunication graduate of Tai Solarin University Of Education.
Oluwatobi’s group now has an outfit called rloop devoted to developing a functional Hyperloop technology.
But then, what is Hyperloop?
It is a system of transportation that would propel passengers using electric and magnetic levitation at a speed of between 560-1,200 km/h), meaning that you can do that distance in a travel time of 35 minutes, faster than current rail or air travel times.
In practical terms, if we have a network of Hyperloop system in Nigeria, you can move from one end of this country to any other end within 35 minutes. In other words, you can live in Maiduguri and conveniently work in Lagos without breaking a sweat! Watch a video on how a Hyperloop works here:https://youtu.be/AO0sPME3j2s?t=63
State of the technology.
From Elon Musk paper idea in 2013, several Hyperloop startups have sprouted with different prototypes racing to mass deployment market. Elon Musk is testing his Hyperloop system outside SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Virgin Hyperloop test track is located in the desert north of Las Vegas while Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has a test track in France.
It is plausible that the United Arab Emirate may have the first commercial Hyperloop system.
China is said to independently developing its own system. Given their appetite to take on gigantic projects with ease, that country may eventually dominate the manufacturing and deployment of Hyperloop technology.
There are some concerns about the safety of a system that hauls people faster than an airplane. Some even doubt the business sense of a system that will be so expensive to construct. But given the dizzying pace developments since 2013 when the idea was first mooted, all concerns may be speedily addressed.
A Nigerian twist.
Almost everything has a Nigerian twist. Before I even got to know that Oluwatobi is involved in developing the new transportation system, I read a story about a company selling the idea of building a Hyperloop in Lagos. I chuckled. It struck me as another snake oil deal in the making. If a deal actually happens, it won’t be long before a few individuals will be hauled before the courts by the folks at the EFCC.
Nigerian does not have the technology backbone for anyone to build a Hyperloop for now. We are still struggling to get things right with a rail system that has been running for over 100 years and have become so delusional about it that every administration since 1999 has talked glowingly of their achievements in a sector that is almost invisible on our transportation infrastructure. In fact, a law for a road map for the entire transportation sector was only passed into law this week after hibernating in the National Assembly for 10 years.
The Hyperloop technology may not be seen anywhere in Africa soon. In a recently “appropriate site” for a Hyperloop system survey, no African country made it into the ten chosen locations.
Oluwatobi’s take on Hyperloop in Nigeria?
“May be in twenty years or more”.
May be 50 or more, but only if we switch from everything we are doing right now to something more aligned with the power of the human mind for adventure. Otherwise, our great grandchildren will be debating about how to set up a basic Hyperloop system in about a 100-150 years. And they will be inviting proposals from the rest of the world.