In 1964, when Japan rolled out the Shinkansen – the bullet train system which has now caught India’s fancy thanks to PM Modi – it was a disruptive technology which the world had never seen before. As a former Joint Secretary to Government of India Raghunandan Tr notes here, the technology had leapfrogged to bring in a whole new generation of transport. But what was most important about that technological revolution was that it was relevant to the time – it made economic sense, and there was no competition to it.
In 2017’s India, flights are cheaper and more efficient, and they are becoming bigger by the day. They are also becoming more energy efficient. What India needs is not the disruptive technology from half a century ago, but what would make Indian transport efficient a century from now. One of the answers to that, Raghunandan says, is Hyperloop.
Hyperloop is the fifth mode of transportation as proposed by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. It would enable passengers to travel between cities at over 700 miles per hour, allowing the ability to live in one city and work in another. It uses a system of pods travelling in an evacuated tube using magnetic levitation, propelled via linear electric motors. Speeds faster than an aircraft can be achieved because there is no air to be pushed aside. As Raghunandan notes, Hyperloop will surpass aircraft in economy while polluting much less, because they do not burn the huge quantities of fossil fuels that an aircraft does to beat gravity. Imagine a world where you could travel between Chennai and Bengaluru in 30 minutes, or Delhi and Mumbai in just 80 minutes, and yet not contribute to pollution as much.
Hyperloop India OrcaPod prototype at SpaceX Challenge in California
While it remains to be seen if the Indian government and big corporates can take the giant steps required to make Hyperloop in India a reality, what one can encourage is innovation at the grassroot level and this can happen at India’s several engineering and tech universities.
In fact, much of the leadership team of Hyperloop India consist of young students from BITS Pilani. But there is another University which has given institutional backing to Hyperloop India, with an eye on knowledge transfer and financially support – the Chennai-based Hindustan University. Ashok Verghese, the Director of Hindustan University, knows the importance of the project for India.
“The increasing road traffic density and expansion of city radius, necessitates new ways of addressing the need for alternate Mass Rapid Transportation Systems. The world is pinning its hopes on Hyperloop as a promising solution. The Andhra Pradesh government has proposed to implement the Hyperloop across Amaravati and Vijayawada, where our citizens shall be the early birds to explore the Hyperloop experience in reality,” Ashok points out.
Ashok Verghese, Director of Hindustan University, with Pavan Kumar and Anupama Gowda of Workbench Projects.
And their participation is beyond sponsorship. “As one of the sponsors of Hyperloop India, we look forward to active participation in making this Hyperloop travel a reality in our country,” Ashok says, and that is why, a team from Hyperloop India and its partners Workbench Projects, were recently at the University campus on the outskirts of Chennai for initiating knowledge transfer and encouraging more students from the University to work towards making Hyperloop a reality.
With about 500 students from departments of Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautical Engineering, and Mechatronics participating in the knowledge transfer session, the Workbench and Hyperloop India team presented their Pod design, their engineering and process, and how they were able to win several competitions to reach where they are today. The Hyperloop team also spoke about how the students of Hindustan can look at challenges that seem big and take them head on.
The students were also introduced to the technical details of the project.
“The response was quite interesting,” says CEO of Workbench Projects Pavan Kumar, “because students had a lot of questions to ask, both technical and non-technical, and it went on for nearly half-a-day. There were also students who kept coming back to us to ask questions.” On October 5, fourteen of the nearly 500 students who participated in the session will visit Bengaluru for another session.
The involvement of Universities like Hindustan is crucial to the Hyperloop dream. While signing the MoU with Hyperloop India in July, Ashok had said, “As a country poised for growth, India has to encourage innovation to bring about solutions to its diverse problems. Also, the purpose of engineers is to resolve those problems in a technically feasible and commercially viable mode."
“It is the innate duty of higher education institutions to identify and nurture innovative talents among students and encourage them to work upon finding effective solutions which shall speed up our development agenda,” he added.
Hyperloop India is among the two companies selected at the SpaceX Challenge based on feasibility studies. Hyperloop India proposed a Mumbai-Chennai route that would provide east-west connection across India. The 1,102-kilometre stretch will take passengers and goods from Mumbai to Chennai in just 63 minutes and would go via Pune, Kolhapur, Dharwad, Tumakuru, Bengaluru and Vellore. As the future of Hyperloop shapes up in India, Universities like Hindustan are poised to be a part of its journey, and India will benefit from it.