Hyperloops and Robot Cars, A Glimpse into The Future

His mobile blooped at him with one of those noises a company spent money to get. A timer started on the screen as he rushed to put his shoes on. He finished and pushed open his door, running down the stairs two to a bound. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs he had his backpack slung over both shoulders, which he mentally cursed himself for since he’d just have to take the dang thing off again.

It was morning on January first, and he was due at his parent’s house for a new year’s dinner fifteen hundred miles away. He should have booked a plane weeks ago, but now the Loop was his only option. The Loop didn’t really have peak rates, and while the plane would be a little faster, more direct, and cheaper IF he had remembered to book it in time, the Loop would take him the same distance today. Plus, the seats were comfier. They reclined nicely, and he intended to nap on the way. Hopefully, by the time he got there, the bleariness from last night’s celebration would be undetectable by parental senses.

He locked the door to his apartment complex, a reassuringly square assembly from the seventies, and walked to the sidewalk where a friendly light blue car waited for him. When he got close, his mobile vibrated and made another distressingly cheery noise. The doors of the car swung open opposite of each other to expose the space inside. The car displayed two rows of inward facing bench seats, a panoramic row of windows around the entire perimeter of the vehicle, and… yes, his nose was telling him before his eyes fixed on it, a very unsettling amount of vomit in the center of the floor.

He turned around, a bit squeamish, and took out his mobile. He navigated through the controls. Where is the menu option? What year is it now? Why is this still hard? Three awkward menus deep and he finally found and selected the option to let the dispatch know the car had an issue which made it uninhabitable. The car immediately began to chirp warnings and the doors soon started to close. In a moment, a human somewhere in the city would be looking at a video of the inside of the car, determining him a liar or not. As expected, a few seconds later, the little car began to drive off. The lights on the rear of the car turned from bright red to the yellow amber of headlights as it decided its front would be its back. It drove off to the dispatch center for cleaning and repair. Someone would be eating a 100 dollar cleaning bill today. He didn’t feel sorry for them.

His phone began to vibrate. He picked it up to answer a call from a bored customer service representative who was trying hard to sound earnest. “Sorry for the trouble sir, the ride today will be free. We have another car on its way”

“No big deal,” he laughed, “Someone partied a little too hard last night, you know?” He was picking up on a slight bleariness in her voice as well.

“Thank you for your understanding sir.” She said goodbye.

Ten minutes later, he mentally patted himself on the back for precognitively putting his backpack on after all, another little square car drove up. Its doors opened, splitting an advertisement for a phone in half. This one proved to be spotless. They must have dispatched one right out of cleaning to make sure, and he got in. When the car registered his seat belt clicked, a cheery voice let him know how thankful its company was that he chose them to drive him to the Hyperloop terminal.

The ride was comfortable, but he had picked what he thought would be a forward facing seat based on the direction the car came from. It ended up being a rear facing seat, which was making him nervous in the stop and go city traffic. The car protested as he undid his seatbelt and switched sides, but let it go as he clipped in on the other side. An advertisement started to play in the car.  He subconsciously reached up, and hit the mute button. Wasn’t there a big media thing a while back about how much everyone hated the new ads? He took out his mobile, and caught up on his social media for the rest of the ride.

The car blooped another expensive chime at him as he felt it slow down. He put down his mobile and looked out the window to see that he had arrived at the Hyperloop terminal. The terminal was still relatively new, though the chewed gum and scuffed steps were starting to make their mark on the previously flawless façade. He looked up at the animated overhead signs, and noted a section of security lines that seemed to have the lowest wait time. He started off in that direction.

A few minutes later he was handing his ID to a man in a uniform who was doing his best to give individually tailored distrusting looks to every person. He dropped his bag on the conveyor, and held his hands up through the scanner. In a moment, he was walking through the terminal to his assigned capsule.

He got to his gate. Another man in a different uniform took his ticket and bag. He looked at the capsule in front of him. It was raised slightly above the ground to make it easier to get in. This was one of the capsules that supported ADA customers, so a ramp led to the front of the capsule where there were no chairs. Currently a passenger in one of those increasingly common standing wheelchairs was lowering to a sitting position and being strapped in by an attendant.

Focusing, he walked up to his row and noticed a man was sitting in the seat in front of his. He apologized and asked the man to get up. This was a little effort for the man, as a person kind of had to fold themselves into the Hyperloop chairs. It made for a comfortable ride, but people definitely used the hand grips provided. The man stood out of his way, and he folded himself up into the vacated seat, and then did a little hop scoot across the small aisle into his seat. He folded the armrests down as the man got back into his chair. He looked around, and noted with relief that nothing was broken or dirty around him. He had one trip where the screen in front of him was broken, and another where someone had left one of those disgusting spit bottles for chewing tobacco in the seat pocket. The attendant came and took it away, but it was still gross.

He zoned out for a bit, and came to when the doors started to close. The screen in front of him jumped to life, and began to give him the safety briefing. In the event of a stop something something. It’s against federal law to be a big jerk in a confined space. Everyone’s on camera so don’t be bad. The door closed all the way, making a low ratcheting noise as the cabin sealed tight. If it’s vomit time something something bag is in the seat pocket. The briefing went on for a bit, covering up a low vibration as the capsule began to move into its vacuum lock.

A mechanical hum could be heard as the vacuum was turned on around the capsule. The screen felt the passengers were safe enough, and began to show information about the trip. Seven hundred miles in an hour. The capsule’s lights dimmed briefly as the vehicle moved to internal power.  No delays expected. He heard a clunk as the next door opened in front of the capsule. It showed a map, and then he felt the vibration of the rollers moving the capsule into place. He remembered how smooth they were when the station opened. Carrying a couple million passengers will do that to any system.

If it could be seen from the outside, the first part of the journey would be very much like a roller coaster ride at an amusement park. The capsules were rolled out of their bays and rolled forward to wait their turn at the linear accelerators. On the inside, the capsule bumped and rattled a bit. Disenchanted people began to get seriously involved in their mobiles and computers. He did the same as the screen in front of him showed the wait time until their turn.

Another computer voice started talking as their capsule was positioned above the linear accelerators after being fed through another set of locks. He could hear the turbine fire up, and a subtle vibration carried all the way through the craft. The computer voice warned about some acceleration as the electrical hum continued to build up. The accelerators fired, and then he could feel it. He was pushed back against his seat, not uncomfortably, but also not much differently from a take-off in an airplane. The screen helpfully showed how fast they were going, and began to humbly brag about all the time he was saving by choosing the Hyperloop.

Once they had reached speed, the screen began to show live camera footage of the outside landscape. It was kind of jarring at first, as the perspective would shift in and out as they reached new pylons, but it was cool and certainly made the capsule feel less claustrophobic. He tapped the screen a few times and got it to dim a bit. He was still hung-over, so he put his jacket over his eyes and went to sleep.

He felt the capsule come to a slow down. Next the turbine whined down and he felt the moments as the craft was fed into the receiving locks. Roller vibration started again, and he started to rearrange his things. Time to transfer. The capsule vibrated a bit more until a final clunk. A woosh and another round of light dimming signaled their docking. He disinterestedly listened to the computer voice thanking him for his patronage as the door opened, and he waited his turn to do another hop scoot across the aisle and exit the capsule.

He nodded at the attendant, and walked over to the small conveyor beside the capsule loading area. He could see his bag being unloaded by a man feet away from him, but figured the belt just helped keep the guy un-harassed by a build-up of impatient people after each unloading. He took his bag and walked over to the next assigned terminal.

He woke at the other end, an hour’s nap later. He had a loading side seat this time which was way more comfortable to get out of. He stretched, looked around, got his bag again, and headed for the bus terminal. His parents lived too far away to make an automatic car rental affordable, and their town was still small enough that people drove their own cars. His parents couldn’t come pick him up so he had booked an automatic bus to the next location.

He found his bus. There was still a driver standing outside, but he wouldn’t be doing much driving. It was just a legal requirement for vehicles of a certain size to maintain a driver. The AI’s had a bad track record from their earlier implementations for trying to drive large vehicles through streets too small for them. The problem was fixed now, but it would be a few years before trust was rebuilt. The driver checked his ticket and put his luggage underneath. He got on the bus and took a seat behind the driver with what he hoped would be a nice view.

The bus driver announced their destination, and then pressed a button on his computer. The steering wheel in front of him recessed slightly to make it clear who was in charge, and the bus got on its way. Thirty minutes into the drive he smiled a bit as he saw the driver was immersed in a phone game. It was definitely illegal, but he’d ridden on the buses tons of times and wasn’t too worried. It wouldn’t be long before these guys were all just attendants anyway.

Another hour and a nap later, he was feeling good as new. He got off the bus, and walked over to a bench where he sat to wait for his parents. It was about four-ish hours from when he had started, and he had made a trip of about 1500 miles. As he sat, he watched the surroundings as the sun began to think about noon. The bus driver finished his inspection, and got out, strolling over to the employee break room. A few moments later, the bus hissed and rose to its full height. It drove off to the charging station at the other end of the depot. He guessed they both were a little hungry.

Some time later a new car pulled up in front of him. He was surprised to see his parents get out of it. They hugged him. His father took his bag from him, and put it in the trunk as he started to brag about their new car. They had gone on a road trip with their friends who owned an automatic car last summer. After seeing their friend, illegally, take a nap an hour into the trip, they decided they had to get one for themselves. Oh well, he couldn’t blame them, though he’d miss their old car. He liked the way the engine sounded. The electrics just didn’t have the same charm.

He was proudly ushered into the front seat of the car. The car swayed slightly from side to side as his mom and dad got in. His dad told the car to go home, and then smiling, did a little dad joke about driving with no hands.

40 thoughts on “Hyperloops and Robot Cars, A Glimpse into The Future

    1. I have to admit, if the article wasnt written by Al Williams, I pretty much just skim it and move on. Al’s articles seem to be the only articles that consistently add value to my life. The rest are just entertainment / internet noise, just like Reddit or Youtube.

      1. i still read most of the articles by Mike and Brian, but that’s about it. The rest of them tend to be filler or corporate fluff for PPI ads (Pay Per Impression) barely even worth a glance, much less a skim. This article in particular, while worthy perhaps of a Piers Anthony novel, is not what I come to HaD for. I know a number of people whom have stopped reading HaD because of stuff like this. Call me a fool, but I’m still holding out hope.

        1. This story\article was cool!

          Brian and Mike, while I actually like both of their stuff are probably the more commercial minded of the editors or writers here!!! Are you sure you have a nuanced critical opinion?

          Brian takes obvious glee in click bait and sarcastic new media tropisms, while Mike is obviously coordinating much of the new corporate-funded activity.

          I wish their publication all the success in the world though, so I dont want this to sound like condemnation. The site still delivers IMO. And I am a real cynic who constantly ends up arguing with Brian!

      2. Bill Herd does nothing for you? Elliot Williams’s great in depth series’? Nothing? The interesting international reporters who expose hacker space and diy culture in far flung places is just too irrelevant to your particular interests for you to admit that it is interesting and unique content?

        Al often writes great things, but so do the others. You do understand the purpose has always been to click through to see the actual project, right?

      3. Not your focus I know, but I just want to point out that youtube can be quite handy for finding fixes for things, both hardware and software. I even had a normal web search give me no results but youtube got me the info I wanted.
        So don’t dismiss it outright as 100% fluff simply because it has such large amount of bullshit and entertainment on its facade.

    1. The problem is that if anything has a way to be misused by the authorities/lawmakers or law enforcement, and they are likely to know or learn about it, then it WILL be abused by them, unless you first put in strong legislation to prevent it.
      But in this day an age it becomes harder to get such solid legislation hammered down and be free of nasty small print.

          1. Not only do people die all the time, people make mistakes all the time. I’m not saying that a driverless car would be faultless, but any faults that are discovered would have to be analysed and fixed making everyone safer. Even if you assume that a human driver learns from their mistakes that learning is limited to that human driver and not disseminated to us all.
            I’m also looking forward to the level of collective organisation that driverless vehicles will be able to do. They’d be able to never need to stop at road junctions, they could simply leave space for each other to navigate. The efficiency of our road networks would be so vastly improved.

  1. I enjoyed this read, nice work Gerrit! The part where the first driverless car is dirty is a nice touch. New tech always seems a big broken. This car is smart enough to get where it needs to be without incident, but can’t figure out the interior is disgusting. Seems about how that might work out.

  2. This being HaD, I kept expecting to break out of the fiction, and into some reality… but it never happened. If I knew if was 100% story, it may have influenced me to read this later (or at least changed my expectations of the read, while reading it). Seems like a reasonably possible future, in 5 years this could be a TV/youtube advert if some product/corporate logos/name-drops were added in.

  3. I believe future will be slightly different: we will not be the passengers of the mass transit. Instead our short-range, low-speed, optionally automatic drive, standard size and standard interface and position securing points vehicle pods for single and couple occupants (think: palette, but for humans … a kind of electric “Smart” car, designed for fastening to a carrier), will provide us privacy, as well as (partial) security, against each other while we take longer trips on fast, long range pod-carriers for road, track, air and vacuum transportation. Being more mobile in pods then on foot, we’ll be able to use spatial spread and higher speed to lower terrorist threats against people accumulated at choke points. Of course, the traffic ports terminal buildings will become larger to accommodate the new arrangements. We will travel around the world never leaving our pods, from the moment we exit our habitats till we enter our destinations. Aeroplanes, ships, buses. trains, … perhaps even most of our buildings, they will all be “drive-in”. So, if you ask me will we use personal transportation or public transportation in the future, I think that the answer is “both, simultaneously”.

  4. The problem with hyperloop: have you been on a modern high-speed train that banks into turns?

    Centripetal forces through bends happen even though high speed railroads are supposed to be incredibly straight and only take very gradual turns. When you’re doing 200 kph, even a gradual curve makes your gravity and your visual horizon turn to different angles, and inside a closed cabin that means you start to feel seasick. What’s worse, the trains tilt into the turns to keep the center of gravity between the tracks, but that means looking out of the window you might see sky or ground which makes the problem worse. I tried to read on a Pendolino once and ended up almost vomiting.

    When you’re going 700 mph down a tube, it’s going to be some serious tossing around because they simply can’t build it so straight that it would fly like an airplane. A tall pylon will shrink or grow or sway inches because of temperature changes and wind loads, and the capsule is going 300 meters per second, passing a pylon every 1/10th of a second, which makes for a thoroughly rattling experience even if it is on an air cushion inside the tube.

      1. The story involves a “video window” for scenery to alleviate claustrophobia. Same problem: g-forces tossing you every which way, but the visual horizon inside is staying level, and the view “outside” follows suit -> brain thinks it’s being poisoned and turns your stomach inside out.

          1. Sure, you want to show the passengers inside how the pod is going all topsy turvy and banking wildly as it shoots through the tube like a carnival ride. That’ll work to alleviate their motion sickness.

            The problem is that the tube/track is uneven because it expands and contracts and shifts for a number of reasons along its length. The tube itself grows longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, or in sun and shade, which you have to deal with by including expansion joints. You can’t just bolt it down, because the forces involved are tremendous: in railways sun kinks are a thing, and can suddenly derail a train when the expansion forces release and the track buckles, which is why slower tracks have gaps between sections that go clunk when you ride over them making the traditional railway sound.

            Every pylon is “alive”, so there’s going to be slight kinks and bends in it, and the pod itself is going to put mechanical forces down the bends, bending the tube as well. The high frequency vibration of going through the pipe sections will be handled by the air cushion, but the low frequency deviation of having some pylons offset from the others will put varying g-forces on the pod and it doesn’t take much to make people sick.

            It already happens in modern high-speed trains. It’s going to be worse in the hyperloop.

          2. Furthermore, since it’s a digital camera, there’s going to be “simulator sickness” caused by the lag between the outside reality and the display, so you feel nauseous simply from the fact that you can feel the motion in your inner ear before you can see it in the video window.

            It’s going to be a great technical hurdle to make it confortable to ride, and I’m not so sure they’ll bother to spend all that money on perfecting it.

            Same thing with the self-driving cars. The moment they’re statistically better than the average driver, Google or someone else is going to say “good enough” and start cashing in. Problem is, the average driver is worse than most drivers because a small number of drivers are responsible for most of the accidents.

        1. How is it that “the average driver is worse than most drivers”? Wouldn’t that make them above or below average depending on your perspective?
          Or is yours an alternate universe aka Abrams Star Trek ?

          1. To give you a concrete example, imagine ten drivers put through a driving test with the following scores:

            10,9.9,9,8,8,8,7,6,4

            The average score is 7.7 and 7/10 drivers top that.

            The effect is because most people are roughly at the same level in skill; measure any human property and it falls on some normal distribution. This in itself doesn’t mean the median should differ from the mean, but when we also note that there’s a cut-off at the high end because of diminishing returns – once you are already driving sufficiently safely there’s no more room to improve except in very uncommon marginal situations. You may pay twice as much attention and drive twice as carefully, but your “safety score” won’t improve because you’re already not crashing or driving people over under the usual variation of everyday conditions.

            That means there’s more “good” drivers than there are “bad” drivers, and the bad drivers are pulling the scores down for everyone.

            That means if we use the “average” driver as a passing criteria for safety in self-driving vehicles, it’s going to perform worse than most of the drivers on the road. That in turn means stepping in a self-driving car is likely to be less safe than driving yourself.

            The same quirk of statistics can be observed in things like bicycle accidents and helmet wearing. There’s a minority of people – predominantly professional drunks – who get on bikes and smash their heads in, and that means the authorities see N number of head injuries per M number of cyclists and decide to force everyone to wear styrofoam helmets on the misguided idea that forcing everyone to wear helmets would do something about it. What it really does is just put people off of cycling.

  5. By chance I saw an article on the web from Popular Mechanix from 1968, Forty Years into the Future. It started with “It’s …November 18, 2008 … Why that was 3 days ago! Feeling like I just stepped out of the Tardis, I read on …I punched in our destination into the cars computer… Right!

    But the tail-fined bubble topped sedan-spaceship in route to the moon after leaving a big circular space station? Wrong. Cities under glass bubbles, POP! I am still here in real-time.

  6. Seems like an attempted at a William Gibson Short story but nope, I was stuck on that paradoxical letter construction “blooped” my main loop ran out of memory due to a leak, Yeah i kind of pissed my self and not laughing.

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