#Asia India’s Hyperloop experiment is a victory for moonshots across Asia

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hyperloop

One of the perks of this job is being forced to have malleable opinions — an argument that was valid in March may be wrong in December simply because of developments in the real world.

What is especially gratifying is being proven wrong in a positive manner about a pet-favourite technology.

This week, this happened to me when the government of India took a step towards taking a moonshot that, in March, I wrote I was doubtful would happen.

e27 reported that the Indian government had begun to take steps to allow Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Transportation Technologies to run trials in the country.

Not only is the country trying to approve trial runs, they have put forth an aggressive timetable with the goal of building a technically feasible Hyperloop model by 2020.

According to Quartz, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari offered Musk a large chunk of land between Maharashtra and Pune to take up as the location to run a pilot project

Around summer 2015, Hyperloop technology — which shoots passengers sitting an enclosed capsule at speeds topping 1,100 kph — started showing signs that it was moving from theory to reality. Much like what happened with driverless cars 4-5 years ago, 2016 is the year that hyperloop became a technology we might reasonably expect to come to fruition in the next decade or so.

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The news bucks the trend of a common sentiment in the Asian startup community, which goes:

“We are excellent at execution, but fall behind in innovation.”

Even a couple of weeks ago, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam pointed out that the city’s patent output is relatively low for a city with its resources.

With risky technology — like autonomous vehicles — development needs to hit a certain ‘percentage-likelihood of success’ before it gets onboarded in Asia. The problem with this is, with cutting-edge technology, if it does work, the companies that took early risks (when the project had a 1 per cent of success) reap the huge rewards at the end.

An example comes from another of Musk’s futuristic technology companies, SpaceX (and in the spirit of fairness, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin).

Private space travel (especially to Mars) is still extremely far from reality. But, if humans do start to leave Earth permanently, it will be with private companies like Blue Origin or Space X leading the way via partnerships with government agencies like NASA or the China National Space Administration.

As National Geographic expertly explained in its massive Mars feature this fall, government agencies will be forced to partner with private companies (and private companies will be just as reliant on the government). The reason is because agencies like NASA have a significant brainpower, experience and infrastructure advantage. Private companies have the luxury of experimentation, because if a NASA retropropulsion experiment explodes it is a disaster, if it happens to SpaceX, it’s a setback.

This is why SpaceX shares it’s data with NASA. Musk knows the engineers at NASA can improve on the risks he takes.

This ties into the moonshot argument because, if we start to venture to Mars in 2030, 2040, 2050, it will be SpaceX or Blue Origin leading the way. They started to lay the groundwork today.

Which is why the hyperloop trials in India are so cool.

While Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is still a western company, it will be competing with other companies (like Hyperloop One) by trying to solve Indian problems.

This is highlighted in the Quartz article — it says that Modi’s government is considering a high-speed rail system, but is scared off by the sticker price, and hyperloop might actually be more affordable.

So even if an American company develops the technology faster, it is not relevant if Hyperloop Transportation Technologies can successfully integrate it into an infrastructure overhaul in India.

It will not be easy to reconfigure the American highway system to adapt to hyperloop ‘trains’. So, if the Indian experiment truly takes off, they have a legitimate chance not just to compete with the US competition, but to win the race.

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Now, this could all end in disaster. The technology could fail, tragedy could strike, or the entire project could just get too damn expensive.

But that’s not really the point is it?

In March, I asked, “Asia has the chance at hitting a moonshot, but will it even swing?”

Turns out, India did.

 

The post India’s Hyperloop experiment is a victory for moonshots across Asia appeared first on e27.

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