Physical Broadband Has Arrived

Combining digital and physical innovations to radically transform physical transportation.

It seems so primitive looking back at the Internet in the 1990s. Painfully slow dial-ups via telephones with 56kbps connections made it impossible to download anything apart from the text. At full speed, a single, low-quality song (roughly 3.5MB) would take at best around 10 minutes to download and often a few hours. In addition to crawling speeds, dial-up internet was extremely inconvenient because you could only do one thing at a time. People were unable to make phone calls and browse the Internet at the same time. And stream video? Not a chance.

When broadband connectivity debuted in the early 2000s, most people simply saw it as a faster Internet. In retrospect, it's clear that it was much more than just speed. The ability to have simultaneous transmission of data, voice, and video on the same connection at high-speed enabled a shift of power to consumers as choice and universal access exploded. New services and products emerged offering greater on-demand experiences at dramatically different price points.

As big as the Internet revolution was and continues to be, it was largely limited to the digital world. In transportation, the Internet enabled changes like online booking, mapping, and real-time traffic updates. But the fundamental experience of daily travel hasn’t changed. Given increased demand, in most cases, it has gotten worse.

As I shared today in my presentation at the Future of Transportation World Conference in Cologne, Germany, we believe it will be the combination of the Internet-based technologies of the last several decades (cloud, mobility, big data, analytics, social) and the physical innovations of Hyperloop that will radically transform the physical transportation experience. 

Innovating Physical Broadband

Broadband carries data, voice, and video packets at high speed on a single line. By combining passive magnetic levitation with a vacuum environment, Hyperloop can transport people, freight, and eventually, cars in individual packets called pods at faster than airline speeds.

But speed is only one of the innovations behind Hyperloop. With Hyperloop One each journey is on-demand, leaving when you want to go, and will not stop at other destinations. Going from Boston to Washington D.C. today by rail you’d face nearly a dozen stops or more. With Hyperloop One – your pod would be direct and travel on the same tube, at the same time as pods are stopping at Providence, RI or New York City.  

This on-demand, direct experience will be enabled by autonomous controls, data, and analytics built into the pods, tube, and systems. The operating system overseeing the overall transport system will be capable of dynamically scheduling and rescheduling traffic and predicting loads based on events in the system and events outside the system. For example, we can link into social media to know when a football match or concert is going to let out to predict higher traffic and dynamically move pods and vehicles to meet that demand.

Our system will also connect and interoperate with last mile providers. With Hyperloop, passengers will be eventually able to schedule a door-to-door, journey from their device.

Say you’re in your office in Amsterdam and it’s your partner’s birthday and you want to go to the hottest fish restaurant in Berlin for dinner.  Five o’clock rolls around and you tap your phone to schedule your Hyperloop journey and Uber car. You are able to pay for the entire journey in one transaction on PayPal. Uber picks you up and off you both go to the Hyperloop One portal. Your self-driving Uber has already contacted the portal via Hyperloop’s Autonomous Vehicle Interface, and just as you arrive at the portal, your Hyperloop pod is waiting for you (better yet, in the future, your Uber slips right into the Hyperloop itself). You arrive at the Berlin portal in 40 minutes. Your Uber drives right out of the Hyperloop portal and straight to your dinner – a 65 min round trip journey door-to-door. It’s direct, autonomous, ultrafast intercity travel and the doors only open twice, once to let you in and once to let you out.

Additionally, the pods themselves will have autonomous controls to ensure passenger comfort, safety, and a better travel experience. The pods will have onboard environmental controls to ensure a comfortable ride. Additionally, they will have localization capabilities to communicate where they are in the system, ability to identify and talk to other pods and the system controller. To help with safety, pods will be able to detect obstacles via an array of sensors and be capable of auto braking. Sensors will also be able to communicate with the motor and tubes to help with maintenance and operations ensuring greater system uptime.

In short, the systems and controls will be as important as the physical innovations of the tubes and pods creating a radically transformed transportation which will be faster, easier, and on-demand. We're innovating and creating physical broadband with a very familiar network topology.

Today: Digital Information Networks

As Wi-Fi and local area networks connect local users online today, we will have on-demand autonomous vehicles and the ability to connect to a Hyperloop. From there, Hyperloop will turn metro cities into metro stops, similar to how wide area networks allow for instantaneous digital connection between cities.

Future: Hyperloop-Enabled Physical Network

This hyper-connectivity will emerge as the new broadband in the physical world. And, just like in the digital revolution, these new transport networks will disrupt business models and societies in a way that vastly simplifies the transportation experience and frees up significant time for billions of consumers.

Welcome to the next network revolution – physical broadband.

Nick Earle: Chairman and CEO of Eseye, Recent Senior Vice President Virgin Hyperloop One

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