Augmented windows, motion capture technology… plush leather interior?
The most common reaction I get when explaining the concept of the Hyperloop to people who have never heard of it is: “Hell no.” No one wants to be the first to step inside a windowless pod that careens through an airless tube at almost twice the speed of sound. No one wants to imagine what could happen to their bodies if something goes wrong. No one wants to be liquified, Roger Corman-style.
One startup, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, is working on waylaying those fears through — what else? — pretty pictures of cool technology. The company, which is based in LA, is very good at releasing loads of images of a transportation system that, so far, does not yet exist in the world. And this morning, at a technology conference in Vienna, the company’s executives played a video that shows what a passenger experience could be like inside one of their pods.
While its rival Hyperloop One is more focused on using the far-out transportation system to move freight — the startup recently announced plans to study using the Hyperloop to move cargo between the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles — Hyperloop Transportation aims to convince skeptics that its system will be safe for passengers. Today, the company announced it would be using a new type of super-strong carbon fiber called Vibranium to make its pods extra safe.
But look inside that capsule! Can’t you imagine kicking back in one of those deliciously beige leather seats, latest issue of Monocle resting in your lap, as you’re whisked along at 760 mph from San Francisco to LA? Or Bratislava to Budapest? (HTT has a signed contract with the Eastern European country Slovakia.)
Of course, when you’re looking out the window, what you’ll see won’t actually be the passing scenery, but a video of the passing scenery, or a scenery simulation. Real windows in a Hyperloop pod would only show the interior of the tube through which it’s traveling, and that sounds dark and boring.
That’s why HTT is working with a Munich-based company called Re’Flekt, which specializes in virtual and augmented reality. According to the video above, interactive panels that display the time, weather, and route of your Hyperloop pod could be a substitute for real windows. Motion-capture technology could adjust the image depending on where you’re looking.Keep in mind, HTT has yet to publicly test any prototypes, unlike Hyperloop One, which conducted an open-air test of its propulsion system a few weeks ago. So while this all looks intriguing and cool, they’re just renderings, which by their very nature are intriguing and cool. It will take a lot more to convince people, especially those who enjoy having bodies, to throw caution to the wind and step foot inside a Hyperloop pod.
Back in the late 1890s, when Henry Flagler extended tracks of the Florida East Coast Railway through the hinterlands of Florida down to Miami, mosquitos and water moccasins were likely more prevalent than people.
Flagler’s vision helped create one of the world’s great cities. Flash forward to today, and rail may be on the verge of helping Miami take the next big leap forward.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is betting that a $375 million venture with a Japanese-Italian rail company, unveiled last month, can help Miami become a model for moving people from cars to mass transit.
In March, Hitachi Rail USA, the American subsidiary of Hitachi Rail Italy, announced the completion of a manufacturing facility for the county’s Department of Transportation and Public Works’ new Metrorail vehicles. Consisting of more than 140,000 square feet, the plant, located in Medley, will manufacture 136 cars and 272 motor bogies (the structural subassembly accommodating wheels, axles, motor and gear box) needed to replace the existing Metrorail fleet. The pre-assembled parts will originate from an Italian plant acquired by Hitachi Rail last year. Contracted by the city Transportation and Public Works departments, the first new Metrorail vehicles are scheduled to be placed into service late next year, with production work lasting until at least early 2019.
The new cars will feature Wi-Fi, LED lighting and other bells and whistles attractive to millennials and, well, anyone tired of sitting in endless traffic. Will it be enough to spark a behavioral change that transforms South Florida?
There is significant promise for the 25-mile, dual-track, elevated rapid transit Metrorail and its current 75,000 daily riders. Metrorail provides service to Miami International Airport and runs from Kendall through South Miami, Coral Gables and downtown Miami; to the Civic Center/Jackson Memorial Hospital area; and to Brownsville, Liberty City, Hialeah and Medley in northwest Miami-Dade, with connections to Broward and Palm Beach counties at the Tri-Rail/Metrorail transfer station.
Miami-Dade, utilizing its half-penny transit tax, is updating the 32-year-old fleet with the amenities that will provide an entirely better/different experience. That’s the key to the plan: create a model of mass transit resembling what’s found in Europe and Asia, one based on quietness, efficiency and high passenger counts. With the opening of its first facility in the United States, Hitachi Rail has been given the reins. Other cities are watching — Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, where ridership has declined.
The timing might be right.
Gimenez has hailed the production activity as an immediate economic stimulant while pointing to the long-term potential of a new light rail commuter-moving system. The idea is to make transit more attractive and convenient to passengers — so they use their automobiles less often. Particularly downtown.
Notably, millennials, the segment of the population in their 20s and 30s, are buying into the concept. Only half of millennials, for example, reportedly get their driver’s licenses at 18, and they’re growing up in the era of Uber.
Also, while roads have been congested across the city, last December saw the arrival of a pilot Express Metrorail service to downtown, offered at peak hours in mornings and afternoons from Dadeland South and Palmetto stations. The Express cut the regular 17-minute travel time by almost a third.
Not by virtue of that new service — but certainly not hurting it — is the fact that downtown Miami is booming. Beginning last year and continuing through 2017, Miami’s retail market is projected to add 1.4 million square feet of new leasable space. The activity is driven largely by mega-projects like Brickell City Centre, Miami Worldcenter and Miami Central. In addition, downtown’s historic Main Street is getting a $13 million reboot.
Flagler Street, home to the highest concentration of historic buildings in downtown, will soon come alive with enhanced pedestrian amenities thanks to large-scale revitalization funded by the City of Miami in coordination with the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The work coincides with significant private-sector interest in the major downtown artery.
“After years of planning,” says Ken Russell, City of Miami District 2 commissioner and Miami DDA chairman, “the pieces of downtown Miami’s retail market are painting a picture of diversity, with luxury brands, new-to-market retailers and homegrown entrepreneurs all looking to stake their claim in the urban core.”
The same could be said for rail.
“Look at the world’s great cities and they all have one thing in common – a comprehensive mass transit system that connects communities together and brings people into the urban core,” comments Alyce Robertson, executive director of the Miami DDA.
“Miami has long lagged behind in this area, largely a result of its relative young history and love affair with its cars, but as our population reaches critical mass and demand for a more urban lifestyle grows, other solutions are desperately needed. (The) Metrorail expansion project will go a long way, particularly as today’s young professionals embrace alternative transit for its convenience and accessibility.”
That train of thought among millennials, along with downtown’s new bustle, could well be the boost rail needs in Miami.
The Federal Transit Administration has given the green light to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) to enter the project development phase for its proposed double-track project on the South Shore Line.
The $210 million project calls for adding a second track along a 25-mile stretch between Tennessee Street in Gary, Ind., and Michigan Boulevard in Michigan City, Ind. The work is expected to increase the commuter railroad’s capacity by 5,000 to 8,000 daily riders and “significantly reduce travel times” along the line, particularly at station locations farther from Chicago, NICTD officials said in a press release.
The agency plans to seek a project rating by the FTA in late 2017, which would lead to a funding recommendation in the next president’s fiscal-year 2018 budget. NICTD officials said. Following congressional approval, the project could begin in 2018, with completion slated for late 2020.
The double-track project “leverages upon years of intelligent, targeted and sustained reinvestment in the infrastructure of the South Shore Line,” said NICTD General Manager Michael Noland, adding that the work “unlocks the incredible potential” of the northern Indiana region.
The next step in the process is completing the preliminary engineering and environmental studies and securing a local/state share of $105 million to qualify for federal funding.
“This type of investment is only the tip of the iceberg of the economic development that is associated with the completion of this project,” said Bill Hanna, president of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA
In late April, the RDA board approved a $1.6 million matching grant for the double-track project.
Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works yesterday issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a construction manager and general contractor to oversee the city’s planned streetcar system.
The winning bidder will be responsible for all construction activities, including installing rail, the overhead contact system and streetcar stops, as well as building an operations and maintenance facility. The chosen company also will oversee all necessary civil and road work, city officials said in a press release.
The contract covers the first 2.5-mile downtown segment of the streetcar system and an additional Lakefront Line extension.
Proposals are due June 1. The RFP and additional documentation can be downloaded on the city’s website.
Construction for the first phase and operation of the maintenance facility is expected to begin in late summer or early fall. The first Brookville Equipment Corp. streetcar vehicle is anticipated to be delivered in December 2017.
The first phase and lakefront extension will cost $128.1 million, according to the Milwaukee Streetcar website.