On today’s episode I want to look at the future of transport! Virgin Hyperloop trialled their new technology earlier this month, raising a number of questions about how we will move around in the future. Will cars no longer be needed? How will we travel? Is hyperloop the solution? These questions, and more, will be answered on today’s episode of Thinking in English!!

(If you can’t see the podcast player click here to listen!)

Vocabulary list

urban (adj) – relating to towns and cities 

Over 82% of Texans live in urban areas

congested (adj) – to be crowded or blocked; congested road have too much traffic and it is difficult to move

Congested roads are normal on holiday weekends

To trial (v) – to test something in a formal way to discover how effective or suitable it is

We will trial the new drug in several hospitals

Pod (n) – a detachable or self-contained unit on an aircraft, spacecraft, vehicle, or vessel, having a particular function

The spacecraft has an escape pod for two people

vacuum (n) – a space without any gas or other matter in it, or a space from which most of the air or gas has been removed

Edison knew that he had to create a vacuum inside the lightbulb

levitation (n) – the act of rising or floating, or making someone rise or float, in the air without any physical support

Some superheroes have the power of levitation

To exceed (v) – To be greater than a number or amount, or to go past an allowed limit

The final cost should not exceed $5000

hypothetical (adj) – imagined or suggested but not necessarily real or true

Estimated return is based on a hypothetical $1000 investment

To project (v) – to calculate an amount or number expected in the future from information already known 

Government spending is projected to rise by three percent next year

The way we travel is going to need to radically change over the next few decades. Private ownership of cars has, if anything, been far too successful; there are over 1 billion cars on the road today, and countries including Finland and Andorra actually have over one car per person! People drive to work, to school, to the supermarket, to everywhere and anywhere. As the global population grows, and more people reside in urban areas, the current transport situation is not sustainable. Our cities are already too congested and suffering from dangerously poor air quality. We need to rethink the way we travel!  

One possible solution to our transport challenges was trialled for the first time earlier this month! Virgin Hyperloop, a futuristic transport concept that involves pods inside vacuum tubes carrying people and cargo at high speeds, has taken passengers on a short journey during a test on November 8. They use magnetic levitation technology which is similar to that used on other advanced high-speed rail projects. The addition of vacuum tunnels would allow hyperloops to far exceed the speed of normal magnetic levitation trains! During the trial, two passengers travelled down a 500m test track in 15 seconds, reaching 107mph (172km/h). This pales in comparison, however, with the company’s target speed; they are confident that they will eventually be able to reach speeds of 1000 kilometers per hour. 

Although they had already tested the concept over 400 times, and Virgin Hyperloop is not the only company developing similar technology, a successful test with human passengers is an essential step in the concept’s progress! So why is hyperloop technology being considered as part of our future transport plan? Well the pods are far more energy efficient than other forms of transport, such as aircraft, and can travel at incredibly high speeds. It’s estimated that a journey starting in New York City and finishing in Washington DC could take as little as 30 minutes on a hyperloop. That would be an average speed of over 700 kilometers per hour. Virgin Hyperloop is also investing in projects around the world, including a hypothetical 12 minute connection between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which takes more than an hour by existing public transport.

The concept of a hyperloop was first suggested by tesla and Space X owner Elon Musk in 2012. There are several other companies working on the concept, including a company set up by Musk called the Boring Company

Final thought

Will the hyperloop be a crucial element of our future transportation? Critics say no. It’s too expensive, will require an unsustainable amount of new infrastructure, and doesn’t solve the problems of urban congestion. In contrast, supporters claim it will be a greener, quieter, and in some cases faster, alternative to aircraft, trains, and cars. It will not, however, be enough to fix our transportation issues alone. One of the biggest frustrations of contemporary urban transport systems is the lack of coordination between different transport providers. Normally we don’t care how we travel or with which company? We care more about how easy and fast we can get from A to B, whether it’s on foot, by bicycle, electric scooter, metro, bus, train, hire car or taxi – or a mixture of some or all of those.

That is potentially the key to guessing what transport will look like in 20, 50, or 100 years. Coordination. Mixing different forms of transport to create fast, efficient, and easy to use transportation. Taking electric scooters from your home to the nearest hyperloop station; cycling to work or riding automated buses; car sharing platforms like uber and lyft. If these can work together, our current obsession with private cars might be over!! Car companies have already started reducing the number of cars they are projecting to make it the future, as well as changing their designs away from private fuel cars. In the words of Laurens van den Acker, chief designer for French vehicle maker Renault, “We think the future is going to be increasingly more autonomous, more electric, more connected and shared.”

Comprehension Questions

Q. What speed did this month’s hyperloop test reach? 

A. 107 mph or 172 kmph

Q. How long will it take you to travel from Abu Dhabi to Dubai using hyperloop?

A. 12 minutes

Q. Who first suggested the idea of hyperloop?

A. Elon Musk

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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