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KC to STL in 20 minutes? System that could threaten speed of sound may come to Missouri

This is how a Hyperloop One pod works

Hyperloop One, which claims technology to shuttle people from Kansas City to St. Louis in about 20 minutes, doesn’t name the Missouri route as a finalist. Video courtesy of Hyperloop One.
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Hyperloop One, which claims technology to shuttle people from Kansas City to St. Louis in about 20 minutes, doesn’t name the Missouri route as a finalist. Video courtesy of Hyperloop One.

Want to travel from Kansas City to St. Louis in the time it takes to watch half an episode of “Star Trek?”

Well, in the not-too-distant future, Missourians may be able to with tube-transit technology.

Hyperloop One is an L.A.-based company holding a global challenge, pitting regions against one another to compete for development opportunities.

If the technology came to Missouri, according to the company’s website, it could take only about 20 minutes to travel from Kansas City to St. Louis along a 240-mile path, assuming no stops are built along the route.

Hyperloop One plans to soon hold human trials in Nevada for its sci-fi-like transit system: Think huge tubes that stretch over the landscape and use electric propulsion to literally blast people-filled pods over the earth. Oh, and the pods will levitate within the tube, because, well, magnets. And the pods could have screens rather than windows with augmented-reality capabilities.

Teleportation still isn’t available in 2017, so hyper-fast tube-traveling will have to do.

Hyperloop technology was proposed by tech billionaire Elon Musk of SpaceX. Companies have sprung up around the technology, including Hyperloop One, which was founded after Musk’s trailblazing, in 2014 by Shervin Pishevar and Brogan BamBrogan.

Here’s more of what we know:

Kansas City is one of 38 semifinalists in the company’s Hyperloop Global Challenge. Other locations include Seattle to Portland, Ore.; Miami to Orlando; Boston to Somerset, Mass.; as well as routes in India, the U.K., China and Mexico.

Cities will be selected by an international jury of experts in transport and technology. They’re looking for locales that “most powerfully make the case for how Hyperloop would not only transform passenger and cargo transport in their locations, but also how that Hyperloop transformation will drive economic growth, generate opportunities for development, and create radically new opportunities for people to live anywhere, work anywhere and be anywhere.”

Tom Blair, MoDOT’s assistant district engineer, pushed for the Kansas City-St. Louis route to be submitted to Hyperloop’s challenge. He told the Kansas City Business Journal that Hyperloop would be a game-changer for the state’s economy, so he’s likely read the competition’s rubric.

On the Hyperloop One site, one can subscribe to the company’s marketing materials by entering an email under the heading “Stay in the Loop” — an appropriate heading.

Hyperloop One’s landing page has the words, “Be anywhere, move everything, connect everyone,” in all-caps superimposed over a video. The video shows images of a crane hefting a big tube in the desert, two men sharing a sharpie to perform mathematics on a white board a camera quickly panning above a rendering of a completed track.

The speed of sound varies due in large part to temperature, but other variables such as humidity and atmospheric pressure factor in. At an altitude of 900 feet — Kansas City’s elevation — the speed of sound is roughly 758 mph on a 50-degree day.

At supersonic speeds, an objects’ approach is silent because it is moving faster than the sound it creates. The sound reaches an observer after the object has passed, and this lag is known as the zone of silence.

In a graphic on its site, Hyperloop One claims it can move humans from San Francisco to Los Angeles in as little as 30 minutes. That’s about 380 miles, which computes to an average of 760 mph.

Wealthy investors believe in Hyperloop One. The Kansas City Business Journal reports the company has raised $140 million.

In a blog post, Hyperloop One reports a Dallas-Houston route would save 2,000 years in travel time every year “based on the number of trips diverted from cars to Hyperloop.”

Bruce Upbin, vice president of strategic communications and a Hyperloop blogger, wrote that Coloradans are all-in for a Hyperloop system. There, people are organizing to make a statewide call for a north-south route.

And though the company’s site only lists 38 semifinalists, its blog reports there are 500 registrants from 80 countries.

“When we do a global challenge, we mean it,” Upbin wrote.

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg

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