Designing the Human Experience of the HyperLoop

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, July 9th, 2015

argodesign's HyperLoop exterior

No aspect of travel is as dreaded as going to the airport. You take a long public transportation route or leave your car in long-term parking just to get there. Once you’re through the doors, there are endless ticketing lines, security screens, and periods of waiting where productivity is lost. Then you’re shoved into small seats that maximize costs over comfort. By the time you arrive at your destination hours later, you’re exhausted, uncomfortable, and frustrated. Billionaire inventor Elon Musk is seeking to change all that and completely revolutionize travel with the development of the HyperLoop.

The HyperLoop, which Musk introduced in 2013, is envisioned as a hyper fast travel system that would allow users to make the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour. The drive currently takes about five hours and thirty minutes. Eventually, the HyperLoop would be networked throughout the country’s major cities, changing the travel landscape for business road warriors and vacationers alike. Musk published his vision in an open white paper. While he focused on the need for the product and what it could mean, he has largely left the actual design to others.

HyperLoop Tripscenes

There have been numerous designers and groups that have worked to imagine what the HyperLoop experience could look like. There are different aspects to consider. Some are related to the travel logistics. How would guests board? Could they be seated safely? How would factors from bathroom usage to food be addressed in the customer experience? Other issues are focused on the guests themselves. What’s the best way to leave guests both engaged and delighted? With a paradigm breaking concept like the HyperLoop, it has been challenging for many to take the idea from the realms of science fiction into reality.

Austin-based design consultancy argodesign set out to move beyond the technical renderings and instead imagine what the experience might look like through a guest’s eyes. “From trains to cars to airplanes, there’s always been a certain romance associated with modern travel,” explains Mark Rolston, founder and chief creative officer at argodesign in the project briefing. “We wanted to explore how the Hyperloop could take shape as a delightful and memorable experience for travelers.”
HyperLoop capsule setup

The Hyperloop is envisioned as a high-speed ground transport system. Think, essentially, of a subway on steroids that allows users to travel long distances in a short time. Aerodynamic “capsules” holding travelers, cars, and cargo would be pushed through a pressurized tube on cushions of air at supersonic speeds.

Argo used a number of constraints to focus their design. Capsules needed to be large enough to hold people and cargo. The designs needed to focus on the realities of travel. Ultimately, after reviewing engineering documents, the team decided it was more likely that the HyperLoop would travel below max speeds to keep passengers from getting sick due to G-force and other factors. Finally, they wanted capsule designs to have changeable configurations for flexibility.

HyperLoop interior design detail

Argo’s proposed design features three levels of passenger car, a vehicle capsule, and a cargo pod. A robotic arm would configure the cars as needed, depending on what the day’s passenger manifest called for. One important question that they wrestled with: How could design be used to overcome the feeling of claustrophobia in small, closed cabins as they rocket through a tube? Argo envisions one solution could be Tripscenes. Tripscenes use large screens and curated digital footage that could be linked to the locale (e.g. a trip along the California coast) or something more general and calming (like clouds and underwater scenes), to capture the imagination of travelers and transport them beyond the tube.

The argodesign project is timely. Right now, most of the innovation and interest in HyperLoop concepts has come from third party firms. Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX just announced a competition that will take place in 2015 and 2016 to begin imagining what the HyperLoop could look like. The team at argo has raised an important element in the design process. It’s easy to focus on the economic, political, and logistical implications of a new technology. For this futuristic venture to succeed, getting the core human experience elements right from the beginning will be key.

 All images sourced courtesy of argodesign’s HyperLoop project briefing.

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