The crowdsourcing organization behind plans to build the world’s first Hyperloop has received hundreds of applications from people hoping to work on the project and has been approached by several places wanting to be the first venue for the super-high-speed transportation system, the group’s head said over the weekend.
Speaking at the MIT-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum on Saturday, JumpStartFund CEO and founder Dirk Ahlborn explained how his organization is hoping to harness the expertise of people who are willing to contribute their time to the project in exchange for nothing but equity. Denver-based JumpStartFund recently announced that former SpaceX mission director Dr. Marco Villa and former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers Dr Patricia Galloway have agreed to provide technical advice for the project, which has been incorporated under the name Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.
Despite the amorphous nature of the project and the fact there is no one homebase for its operations, Alhborn said more than 200 people with “amazing resumes” have applied to work on the Hyperloop. Pushed for more details on the applicants in an interview after his talk, Ahlborn said the applications have come mostly from engineers and scientists, including from the transportation industry and people involved with high-speed rail projects, as well as from NASA.
The Hyperloop is an idea conceived by SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. It describes a transportation system that consists of capsules speeding on “air cushions” through an elevated, low-pressure tube. Theoretically, it could transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes and, Musk has estimated, would cost $6 billion to build. Musk’s plans have faced criticism from people who think that price estimate is way too low, and from others who question its technical viability.
Ahlborn, however, believes it is possible to surmount the economic, technical, and political challenges by drawing on the power of the crowd. “From a technical point of view, it’s nothing new,” said Ahlborn, who is serving as interim CEO for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. “The technology is there. You just have to put it all together and make it work.” Ahlborn is a serial entrepreneur who was most recently an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Girvan Institute of Technology, originally chartered by NASA to foster the growth of high-tech startups.
By drawing on a wide range of people with specific expertise in different parts of the world, he believes the project will find creative solutions to the problems it faces. “By using a community approach, we are also creating a huge amount of people that are backing up this project.” He brushed off concerns that a disparate group of part-timers and freelancers could tackle a project as ambitious as the Hyperloop, saying he believes in the power of the distributed workforce, and that as an entrepreneur he had to be optimistic.
Ahlborn also told the forum that he hopes to have a prototype design for a Hyperloop ready by June 2014. He is aiming to have a sub-scale model built by the first quarter of 2015. What exactly that sub-scale model might look like is not clear. There are many possibilities, he said. For instance, it could be a track that is just five miles long, or it could be a full-scale build-out that is used only for cargo.
Either way, plenty of places are already showing interest, he said, from inside the US and outside. “We have had several places that have stepped up and told us, if you want to do it here, we’ll give you the right of way,” Ahlborn said. That includes places that have said the Hyperloop could be built between two cities.
And if HTT doesn’t get the job done? Well, someone else might. At a recent Business Insider conference, Elon Musk said if no one else builds a prototype, he probably will. “Maybe in a few years if there isn’t one, I’d build it,” Musk said. “I think it’d be a super fun ride. It’d be like Space Mountain, but when you get out you’re somewhere else.”
Update: Here’s a pretty awesome 3D rendering of what the Hyperloop might look like, via Sketchfab.