Zooming to Jogja by Hyperloop
Futuristic transportation could be the key to solving Indonesia’s transportation problems
By Tellisa Ramadhani and Karmila Bain
Sunday, April 9, 2017
It all started off as the idea of Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who was hoping that the Hyperloop system would take passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 30 minutes. In the white paper he released in August 2013, he described Hyperloop as a “cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table”.
The futuristic form of transportation is designed to create a 760 mph electromagnetic journey using low-pressure tubes. Musk open-sourced the Hyperloop design and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) seized the opportunity to develop this groundbreaking technology.
The company is developing the technology and testing its feasibility in many parts of the world such as Quay Valley, California; Bratislava, Slovakia; Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates; Brno, the Czech Republic; Toulouse, France; and Jakarta.
Bearing in mind Jakarta’s traffic problems, AmCham Indonesia talked with the co-founder and chairman of HTT, Bibop Gresta, to see what it envisions for cities like Jakarta.
AmCham Indonesia: Hyperloop is a new technology for Indonesia, the world even; can you tell us more about it?
Bibop Gresta: The company started in 2013. We acknowledge this amazing possibility thanks to Elon Musk. But this kind of idea has been studied several times during the course of human history. When Musk published the white paper on Hyperloop, he acknowledged that there might be a fifth transportation system and it goes as far back as Robert Goddard’s proposal [Goddard was an American scientist who is credited with building the world's first liquid-fueled rocket].
We contacted Elon Musk to continue his idea and we started this movement to develop Hyperloop into something feasible. We do things in a very unique way. Instead of raising as much money as we can, we called every scientist to collaborate and to contribute to this project, and we give them incentives in stocks. Basically what happened from there was like magic, hundreds of scientists joined our team.
Our team is still growing and expanding, with 35 full-time employees from five different countries: the US, Spain, France, Slovakia, the United Arab Emirates, and now Indonesia. We have contributions from 800 people from 42 countries. These people are mostly experts and professionals from the biggest corporations on the planet; we have engineers from NASA, Boeing, Tesla, MIT, ExxonMobil, among many others. These companies contribute millions of dollars in engineering time and tools, we raise so much funding through this just because people are passionate about the technology and they want to see us succeed. We have signed deals with five governments to test the feasibility of the Hyperloop system.
We are making it “energy positive” by applying integrated solar panels. The combination of our technology could produce up to 30 percent of electricity that can be consumed by the public. It is possible to monetize this excess electricity. The cost for the passengers can be minimized because of the additional business it creates. It is very cheap to build and to maintain.
What is unique is we go beyond just building Hyperloop. We are now demonstrating a state where humanity comes together to put together the best minds on the planet to remind people that together we can create an impact.
Why did you choose Indonesia as part of your project?
Indonesia is a very interesting market. Indonesia is in need of improvement in infrastructure and a more efficient, reliable and safer way to transport people, and also causing an issue is the population density. This is why Indonesia is very interesting to us, because of the opportunity.
We work closely with local partners, which has been working out since the end of the first year we started off in the region. We also have been meeting with the Ministry of Transportation, government entities and strategic partners. For us, being local is fundamental. We need to create a condition to be able to build and run the system using the resources that are present in the country. We are going to do this as much as we can in Indonesia.
We are analyzing three different routes and the funding comes from us together with local partners. The first one is Tangerang and we are aiming to connect the airport to the city. Second, we basically look at the entire length of Java and we are willing to connect all the airports into an ecosystem that will allow the transformation of all the airports into some sort of one giant terminal. The third route is in Sumatra. We are aiming to build the connection between the two main airports. The goal is to finish analyzing these three routes within six months, and then we give the results to the government and decide which to develop first.
With this new technology comes concerns about its safety. How can you convince the public that it is a safe means of transport?
There is a lot of misconception about the speed. What is not really known is the issue is not about being fast. A lot of people think that the capsule is accelerating to the speed of sound. In reality, the power that you feel when you are inside the capsule is the acceleration called a “technical jerk” [the rate of change of acceleration].
The technology is safer by definition. The tube will completely protect you from every atmospheric agent. It is like replicating space travel, but with the difference that you are on the ground. If something goes bad, you can reinject the air in the tube and evacuate the people from the pylons. We can also be protected from chemical attacks. The biggest enemy in any transportation system is human. But luckily we are trying to improve our system with self-driving cars and our system will be managed by artificial intelligence that can be controlled by humans. Our system works like a self-guiding car but they are coordinated by the mothership. So if a capsule loses contact with the mothership, it can make decisions.
When should we expect Hyperloop to operate in Indonesia?
We are going to have a six-month feasibility study. Unfortunately, we cannot accelerate the process and we are receiving pressure from all sides for it. We cannot take this study lightly because we are not like companies doing it solely for money. We need to be very serious to analyze the route, find the corridors, define the speed profile and also the objectives of Hyperloop.
The next phase is to receive a conditional permit approval. So there is some contribution in funding from the government and the rest can come from us and other investors, which we are now collecting.
So for the first time we are actually talking about an infrastructure project that can actually make money for the government of Indonesia. I am particularly excited about this, because this can be an equalizer. We can create a system with a very cheap price and something that can be sustainable for the future generations of Indonesia.