<p>962 kilometres per hour, the estimated average speed of a 35-minute Hyperloop trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  </p>
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962 kilometres per hour, the estimated average speed of a 35-minute Hyperloop trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Back to the future

[preamble]As technologyadvances and our world becomes increasingly futuristic, new innovations will need to be able to keep up – in more than one sense.

In August 2013 a new form of transport was revealed – the Hyperloop, a capsule-like vehicle that would be catapulted through a tube reaching from one place to another.

Innovations for customers

Janne Uotila, Sandvik Mining, thinks an idea like the Hyperloop is interesting.

“But I think the Hyperloop is not mature enough for commercial use within the next 10 years, and it’s too complicated a solution to apply to underground mining in the near future.”

Sandvik Mining develops automated and semi-automated solutions to match the industry’s shift toward safer environments and more efficient mining operations.

“Simplified and safer operations and maintenance and lower energy usage are the driving forces for future customer satisfaction,” Uotila says.

This might sound like a scenario from a science-fiction movie, but Hyperloop could be the transport solution of the future, if you ask its inventor, Elon Musk.

If Musk’s Hyperloop were installed between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it would cut the 570-kilometre trip to 35 minutes with an average speed of 962 kilometres per hour.

However, transport engineers are skeptical that his estimate of 7.5 billion US dollars for the project would cover the development and implementation costs.

Musk is not the first to come up with a transport concept like the Hyperloop. Back in the late 1990s, Stephen Fairfax, president of MTechnology Inc, built a demo unit to move 3 million tonnes of ore per year in a phosphate mine.

The “ore car” was based on a concept from high-tech transport developer Magplane, which had an idea in the 1970s for a magnetically levitated train with a speed of 500 kilometres per hour.

Fairfax, back then a young engineering student at MIT, got a contract to build an ore car system to test the concept and reduce the cost of transporting ore at a phosphate mine in the United States.

When scaled up, the same technology should also be capable of transporting 50 million tonnes per year to a port 60 kilometres away.

The way it works is simple. The ore car is pushed into a tube, the controls are turned on, and linear electric motors push the car through the tube at up to 18 metres per second. The car itself is a basic vehicle – two end plates holding the wheels in place and a steel bar in the middle containing a hopper used to transport the rock.

“We used a lot of math and science to calculate the reliability, just like structural engineers use it to calculate the required dimensions of steel girders and other components,” he says.

MTechnology is still working on future innovations for the mining industry but won’t offer details for reasons of confidentiality.

All that Fairfax will say is: “I’m very interested in mine electric power systems and safety systems and finding ways to improve their reliability and performance.”

Good news, as smart ideas always will be part of the future of mining.