Almost five years ago, Elon Musk suggested that passenger pods could zip through a vacuum tube at breakneck speeds. People — some high-profile investors, dozens of universities, and pretty much anybody that’s ever been stuck on a plane — went bananas for it. Hyperloop was born.
Since then, we’ve come kind of a long way. In 2015, SpaceX built a mile-long test track; in 2016, MIT researchers unveiled a prototype of the pod and then demonstrated the first ever low-pressure run a year later.
We’re finally getting to the point where the Hyperloop no longer seems like a pipe dream. An offshoot company wants to build a full line in Abu Dhabi in 2019, and one might connect Chicago and Cleveland.
Now a number of businesses have sprung up around the concept of the Hyperloop. Since it was founded in 2013, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) — the company that wants to connecting cities in the Middle East, like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, via Hyperloop — has grown to some 800 employees and raised tens of millions of dollars.
HTT’s CEO Dirk Ahlborn sat down with Business Insider to chat about his vision for the future of transportation at a venture capitalist event in Kazan, Russia. Some of what he said was what you would expect a CEO of a Hyperloop company to say. Some other points he made, were… a little more surprising. Here are the most notable points of the interview, ordered from “unsurprising” to “pretty far out there”:
- He’s not a fan of public transport. Not a shocker coming from somebody who wants to revolutionize the way we travel.
“[Public transportation] is a terrible passenger experience that barely makes money, and it’s like this around the world. Los Angeles loses $2.50 for each person who takes the metro.”
- Class-based airline tickets are bad for society, and travelers deserve more for their money.
“I want to have a massage, I want to work out, I want to sleep, and based on that I can transform my environment. It’s use-case driven, not class-driven.”
- Airport security is a demeaning charade.
“The security is all psychological, the scanning part doesn’t really work. […] The problem I have with where we are today is that we’re treated like animals. We can do things better.”
- If you want to ride his Hyperloop, you’ll need to give up your biometric data. Because safety (or something).
“Everything works through biometrics. Your account is you, you don’t need a phone, and there’s no anxiety. When I have biometric control, I know who you are.”
- It will never cross a large body of water, and that’s a good thing.
“If something happens underwater in the middle of the ocean, how do I get you out? And if I get you out, you’re in the middle of the ocean. You could say similar things about an airplane, but from a cost structure, I would estimate that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. especially if we have supersonic flight.”
- And the Hyperloop system will be really safe. Safer than any plane ride you’ve ever been on. Because it simply doesn’t make sense to hijack it?
“We have a safety advantage over airplanes, as you cannot fly Hyperloop into a building. It’s bad to say, but mathematically, this is not an effective vehicle for terrorism. One of our capsules carries 30 people. You would do more damage on the metro.”
- Sometimes, the development of new forms of transportation requires a little less “democracy” and a little more “centralized seat of power.”
“Let’s put it this way: Democracy isn’t friendly to these kinds of things. If you want to do this in the U.S., you have tedious right-of-way issues. In China or Russia, however, all it takes is someone powerful to decide that they want it, and it happens.”
- And if you don’t believe in the Hyperloop? Well you don’t exist.
“I don’t remember anyone who didn’t want it.”