Futuristic Dubai dreams of hyperloop transit tubes

Sunday 13/11/2016
An Emirati woman presents Pepper, a robot, at a bank, as a part of the Dubai Future Accelerators in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on October 4th. (AP)

Dubai - Passengers zooming across a country through a network of tubes at close to the speed of sound may seem like a scene from science fiction but in the already futuristic city of Dubai it would fit right in.
Dubai announced that a deal had been reached with Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One to study the potential for building such a high-speed transit line linking it to the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi.
In October Dubai had a two-day competition for designs related to a hyperloop, in which levitating pods powered by electricity and magnet­ism would hurtle through low-fric­tion pipes at a top speed of 1,220km per hour. The plan is to have several stations throughout Dubai connect­ing the hyperloop system to Abu Dhabi.
Proponents of the plan suggest the Dubai-Abu Dhabi travel time by hyperloop would be 12 minutes — significantly down from the hour-plus journey it takes by car between the two cities.
Hyperloop One said in October that the transport network could in­clude an undersea tunnel connect­ing Abu Dhabi to Doha, Qatar, with a 300km trip time of less than 22 minutes. The network could be ex­tended to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“Imagine that you can live in Ri­yadh, work in Dubai, have your din­ner in Abu Dhabi and watch a movie in Qatar,” said Saif al-Aleeli, chief executive officer of the Dubai Fu­ture Foundation, which hosted the competition. “Dubai is trying, as a mission, to prove that concept.”
The heart of the effort can be seen around the Emirate Towers, where the office of Dubai’s ruler and UAE Vice-President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum looks out on a glass skyline that was mainly built in the last 15 years. Outside, con­struction has begun on the Museum of the Future. The world’s first office entirely built of material made by 3D printers sits nearby.
A mall under the towers looks like one of Dubai’s many luxury shop­ping centres until you see the robot assisting customers at a local bank branch. Just around the corner is the Dubai Future Foundation, the government initiative that helped sponsor the hyperloop competition with the emirate’s Roads and Trans­portation Authority.
Sheikh Mohammed visited the foundation on October 4th, put­ting on a virtual-reality headset and walking among its chic offices filled with 3D printers and other state-of-the-art devices.
“Our goal is to anticipate chal­lenges and explore future invest­ment opportunities,” a message on Sheikh Mohammed’s official Twit­ter account read. “We all need to think afresh as we develop for the future.”
It is unclear how much a regional hyperloop network would cost or who would pay for it at a time when Gulf budgets are strained by low global oil prices but Dubai is already home to the world’s tallest build­ing, the longest driverless metro line and long-haul carrier Emirates. A hyperloop network could cement the city’s status as a global transit hub for decades.
Government-backed port opera­tor DP World has had talks with Hy­perloop One about cutting transport times for cargo, said Chris Vasquez, the director of product develop­ment for the hyperloop company. Such a system could be in place in Dubai as early as 2020, he said.
“This is a place where big things happen,” Vasquez said. “They don’t get bogged down by regulations, not that those things aren’t important and don’t deserve due diligence, but we’ve all seen projects stalled by over-crippling regulatory environ­ments where it just stalls for years and years and years.”
Groups involved in the 48-hour hyperloop project presented ideas on October 4th for a possible track between Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, Dubai International Airport and Fu­jaira International Airport. Under their plans, the hyperloop trip of 145km over a mountain range would be ten minutes or less, compared to the current 80 minutes by road.
Focusing less on the science, those involved offered visions of hyperloop stations and seating in­side bullet-shaped transit cars. A team from Paris-based transit com­pany Systra won the competition, walking away with a certificate and a crystal trophy resembling Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
Although few Emiratis were among the contest’s competitors, Aleeli said Emirati university stu­dents on hand for the event would help lead the UAE in future innova­tions.
“We are paving the road to build the right future for them,” he said.
The Associated Press