As reported in Gizmodo, and elsewhere, the simplicity of the electric drive is one key difference in this proposed transportation system, along with the vacuum tubes that remove friction. How does the drive work?
Unlike typical motors, this one has no moving parts. Giegel described the motors as “blades” and what you might get if you took a typical electric motor, cut it down the seam and unrolled it. When powered, these roughly 2-feet tall by 6-inch wide blades create electromagnetic energy that reacts with the pod and pushes it along.
This makes it sound similar to a linear-induction motor you might see on newer roller coasters that shoot cars out at very high speeds—which is why the test looked like one of those roller coasters. But unlike the motors used on roller coasters or high-speed rail, the near-vacuum environment in the hyperloop’s tube reduces the need for so many of these motors because there’s less drag. As Geigel explained it to me, the motors would only need to be installed on 5 to 10 percent of the track, about every 50 miles.
Hyperloop One is the company raising investor money in the traditional way, while Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is attempting a kind of crowd-sourced, volunteer start-up strategy. Both plan to have full scale test tracks built in the next couple of years. This technology could radically change transportation for people and freight between cities at distances of about 500 miles or less. (Beyond that distance, airplanes still make the most sense according to Elon Musk and others.)