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Hyperloop Tests Magnetic Levitation At 192 MPH


So the tech visionary Elon Musk had this crazy idea four years ago. What if people could hurdle between cities through long tubes? It's no longer crazy. A company called Hyperloop One tested a transportation pod last weekend at almost 200 miles an hour. Josh Giegel's the company's co-founder. Good morning, Josh.

JOSH GIEGEL: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So how does this thing work?

GIEGEL: We have effectively a large tube, and we take most of the air out of that. And then we have a vehicle or a pod, as we call it, that sits on the track. And that allows us to go contactlessly (ph).

GREENE: So I'm in, like, this enclosed pod. I'm shooting at nearly 200 miles an hour through a tube that has very little air. And my pod is, like, not touching any surface. It's, like, shooting through because of magnetic levitation. Am I even close to describing it correctly?

GIEGEL: You're very close. I'll say the one thing is we're only going 200 miles an hour now, but we can go up to 700.

GREENE: Seven hundred miles an hour.

GIEGEL: Turning it up to 11.

GREENE: Have you ridden in this? Is it comfortable? Or is your, like, face pressed up against the window?

GIEGEL: (Laughter). No one's ridden in it yet, but it would feel like an aircraft at takeoff. But inside, we're going for something that is kind of the lack of an experience or the absence of an experience because for me, if you see a purple elephant, the first time you see it, it's really interesting. But the second, third, fourth time becomes less exciting.

GREENE: Have you seen a purple elephant (laughter)?

GIEGEL: I have not.

GREENE: OK (laughter).

GIEGEL: So by going for something, like - I feel timeless if you're going for something that kind of is the lack of experience - you know, you're just really getting to your destination. You're not worried about what's going on in the interim.

GREENE: So you're not going for purple elephant? You're going for something that feels just, like, you're on a bus or a plane, and I could be watching a movie on my laptop.


GREENE: Are we close to this being a way that we'll be able to travel from one U.S. city to another?

GIEGEL: I think so. You know, at the beginning people were saying, is this possible? Can I make this happen? And no one really asks that question anymore. They're asking the question of, when can I get on it? When can it be installed?

GREENE: But people are asking other questions now. One of them is - critics seem to say that this still would have to rely on existing older infrastructure, which hasn't always been well-maintained in the country. Like, what would you need in terms of infrastructure to make this happen? And what are the challenges that exist there?

GIEGEL: We really need a right of way. If you look at our videos, you can see us kind of elevated on columns. Or we'd be underneath the ground. That allows people, animals to cross and not really affect the local landscape.

GREENE: I mean, you are making it sound easy, but I'm already hearing some constituencies, such as private landowners, such as environmental groups who I could see holding this up for quite some time.

GIEGEL: With progress will always come the people who want to prevent it. But for us, if you're going to connect two places together, I don't think there's a quieter way, a cleaner way and a more futuristic way to do it.

GREENE: But cutting-edge projects like this - hasn't the government had to foot a lot of the bill? Wouldn't that be another obstacle for you in the United States?

GIEGEL: The government definitely would help provide the infrastructure once it's in line. So they would help build the actual project. But for us to develop, we're a venture-backed company. We've been doing that with private money thus far.

GREENE: But without government help though - I mean, could you realistically offer this service on a large-scale affordably to Americans?

GIEGEL: Any time you're doing these large-scale infrastructure projects, the government help is very important. But we have an infrastructure already. So when you look at the coming future of autonomous vehicles, you see them. So, you know, I'm about to get on a plane to go to D.C., right? So I could in, say, a couple of years, hop in my autonomous car and get there. And maybe it'll take three hours. But with a Hyperloop, I would be able to get there in basically half an hour. And even in that world where I have, like, end-to-end autonomous, I still care about how fast I'm able to get there. So I will always think there'll be a market for getting somewhere fast. And I think the faster you're able to connect people, the more you'll have just economic activity and, quite frankly, exchange of ideas. And as an engineer, that's what I'm all about - is enabling the exchange of ideas.

GREENE: Well, have a good flight. Do you get excited about getting on planes still? Or are you, like, way beyond that? Is it really boring?

GIEGEL: I look at it as a learning experience each and every time. And, sometimes, I'll actually take the train just so I can see what I'm trying to replace.

GREENE: Must feel slow.


GREENE: Well, listen, Josh. Thanks so much for talking. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.