Hyperloop: From pipe dream to reality

Dirk Ahlborn discussed the future of transport in his WEP keynote address on January 11. Photo by Lilit Hovhannisyan

Dirk Ahlborn,​ CEO of Jumpstarter Inc.​ and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc. and one of the invited speakers at the University’s 2017 Winter Enrichment Program (WEP), spoke to the KAUST community on January 11. (operated by Jumpstarter Inc.) is a web portal that helps to create smarter and more successful companies by applying crowdsourcing from the conception of an idea all the way through to the funding stage, and also helped to fund his team's latest project—the Hyperloop​.

On a Hyperloop to the future

The Hyperloop is a proposed futuristic mode of passenger and freight transport that propels pod-like vehicles through a vacuum-like tube at speeds comparable to or faster than conventional airliners. The whole system relies on renewable electric propulsion to accelerate the vehicles through the tube in a low pressure environment. It is hoped that each Hyperloop vehicle will have a passenger capacity of 840 people and will travel at a top speed of 760 mph, thus redefining modern transportation.

Ahlborn feels that Hyperloop would be the optimal solution to current ineffective and outdated global modes of transport, which he believes serve only to create mass traffic problems, emissions and pollution and act as a drain on worldwide governmental funding.

“We have the chance to completely redesign public transport. Traffic is a major problem and form of pollution. We waste too much time in traffic—valuable time that we could be spending time with people we care about. With Hyperloop you will be able to get from San Francisco to L.A., a distance of roughly 400 miles, in 36 minutes. The Hyperloop will be like what the railroads were to the U.S. in the 1800s and it’s safer than any railroad,” he said.

Creating a movement

Ahlborn is a serial entrepreneur with extensive experience in almost every area of business. He's a firm believer in and advocate of the practice of crowdstorming. During his keynote lecture and the WEP on Air talk held in the University Library earlier in the day, he described the role crowdsourcing and people power have played in companies that he has been involved with or invested in.

“Usually discussions about transport infrastructure happen behind closed doors, but we use a system called crowdstorming. It's like an open community of thought. We are actually building the tools as we go, and we connect with each other globally at least weekly. Our team realized it wasn't enough to build a company, we had to build a movement—a movement of not being alone. We have encouraged investment and participation from companies and individuals from around the world,” he said. "It's so powerful that you don't need to be a billionaire or a millionaire to change the world. You just need to bring people together."

Dirk Ahlborn discussed the future of transport in his WEP keynote address on January 11. Photo by Lilit Hovhannisyan​

Building a business

​He also imparted some of his entrepreneurial wisdom and advice to KAUST entrepreneurs and the budding entrepreneurs in attendance. 

“When it comes to you building a business, it can happen anywhere; for example, ideas scrawled on the back of a napkin. Sometimes you have to ask crazy questions to generate brilliant ideas. As an entrepreneur, you are always learning, and if you are successful, you must be adaptable. As an entrepreneur, you must also be willing to move, to pivot and to learn. In summary, my best advice to entrepreneurs is to ask—ask for help, ask for advice, ask for ideas. Just because someone says it can't be done doesn't mean it can't be done. It just means they haven't figured out a way to do it yet,” he said.

A question and answer session followed Ahlborn’s address, with community members getting the chance to discuss and debate on aspects of the Hyperloop project ranging from scientific, structural, environmental and even social aspects.

“When you have an idea and you keep it to yourself, you need to confront yourself—you need to get your message out. Every day you are changing, and every day you need to adjust. Don't be afraid to share your ideas,” he said.

-By David Murphy, KAUST News