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Technology

Hyperloop project moves forward in UAE

A futuristic passenger and freight transportation concept has moved closer to realization after Dubai inks deal with Hyperloop One. The network would propel pods through reduced-pressure tubes at near supersonic speeds.

The city-state of Dubai announced a deal Tuesday with Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One to study the potential for building a line linking it to the United Arab Emirate's capital Abu Dhabi. 

The announcement took place atop the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, with the panorama view of the skyline of this futuristic city-state serving as both a backdrop and a sign of Dubai's desire to be the first to rush toward the future. "We are here today to sign a historic agreement with our partners from [the Dubai] Road and Transport Authority... and we begin to evaluate the delivery of the world's first hyperloop system across the country," the Los Angeles-based company's CEO, Rob Lloyd, told reporters. "We will initially focus on the value that Hyperloop One will deliver in Dubai and across the [United Arab] Emirates."

It sounds like science fiction, but earlier this year, Hyperloop One held its first public test in the desert outside Las Vegas. A prototype system rocketed pods through reduced-pressure tubes at speeds of 1,125 kilometers per hour (700 mph). Planners suggest a Dubai-Abu Dhabi travel time via such a system would be a mere 12 minutes - significantly down from the roughly two hours it now takes by car to cover the 150 kilometers (93 miles).

USA Test Hyperloop One propulsion system (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Locher)

A protoype sled speeds down a track during a test of a Hyperloop One propulsion system, May 11, 2016, in North Las Vegas, Nevada. The concept involves levitating pods powered by electricity and magnetism that hurtle through low-friction pipes

No financial terms were immediately discussed and the technology itself remains under testing. Dubai hosted a competition last month to design a hyperloop track. In that 48-hour project, designers presented ideas for a possible track between Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, Dubai International Airport and Fujairah International Airport. Under their plans, the hyperloop trip of some 145 kilometers (90 miles) over a mountain range would be 10 minutes or less, compared to the current hour and 20 minutes by road.

But the project announced would be simpler: There would be several stations throughout Dubai connecting the hyperloop system to Abu Dhabi. The pods would then be able to carry passengers and cargo between the cities. The government-backed port operator DP World has also signed an agreement with Hyperloop One to explore the feasibility of the using the technology at Dubai's industrial Jebel Ali Port.

The futuristic vision for transportation at near-supersonic speeds was laid out three years ago by billionaire Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car company Tesla and private space exploration endeavor Space X. But instead of developing the idea himself, Musk made his research freely available. The list of financial backers for Hyperloop One includes the French national rail company, US industrial giant General Electric and the Russian state fund RDIF.

jar/kms (AFP, AP)