The idea for Hyperloop was thought up by Silicon Valley billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

According to Musk, it will soon be possible to transport people at incredibly high speeds in pods which travel along tubes. It sounds like science fiction, but it could be a high-tech, high-speed and affordable solution in the near future, according to Phys.org.

Hyperloop
Photo by Kevin Krejci, Flickr

Hyperloop is set to become a reality by 2020, according to its developers.

“We are not the train, we are not the car, we are not the plane,” says Bibop Gresta, chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is one of a number of companies working on a prototype.

“It is a new mode of transportation,” agrees Rob Lloyd, chief executive at competitor Hyperloop One.

Both Lloyd and Gresta were at the Innotrans rail transport fair in Berlin this week, showing off their ideas for a mode of transport that could whisk humans across vast distances in just minutes. For many years, researchers have dreamed of eliminating the problem of air resistance in transport by moving vehicles in a vacuum.

However it was in 2013 that PayPal founder Musk published a paper on a “fifth mode of transport.” He set out a vision for a tube that would link Los Angeles and San Francisco, with journeys taking just 30 minutes. The journey currently takes 5-6 hours by car and 1 hour by plane.

Given that he was busy with Tesla, SpaceX and other ventures, Musk offered his idea to other companies for free. Now there are various companies working to make Hyperloop a reality.

According to those companies, riding the Hyperloop will be as simple as boarding a train. The capsule, which floats slightly off the floor of the tube thanks to magnetic levitation, is propelled down a vacuum tube by electric engines.

One company, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), says that its pods will move at up to 760 miles per hour. This is 1.5 times as fast as an airliner.

Developers say that occupants will feel forces similar to those on an airplane. For now the only way to experience Hyperloop is using a virtual reality headset provided by HTT or rival Canadian startup Transpod.

Anyone using the goggles will be able to take a virtual seat in a cabin lit using artificial sunlight, and outside views on video screens. The companies also have videos showing what the tubes will look like mounted on their pylons.

Developer Hyperloop One has already made preliminary tests of a propulsion system in Nevada. It says it will have a product to market by “2020-2021,” according to engineering chief Josh Giegel.

Over at Transpod, chief Sebastien Gendron says “our objective is that the product be ready for the market in 2020.” For its part HTT says it will be marketing its product by 2019.

Gendron says that Hyperloop could shake up the way we live by making it easier to live far outside crowded cities while still commuting to work. Prices are also expected to be low, with a 28-minute ride from Stockholm to Helsinki predicted to cost $28. Add to that zero emissions and strong safety provisions, there are plenty of theoretical advantages to Hyperloop.

Far from being a pie in the sky transport idea, the invention is attracting serious investors. French train company SNCF recently invested in Hyperloop One, while the graphite materials company Mersen has entered into partnership with Mersen.

Hyperloop One has already attracted $130 million in funding, and Transpod says it needs about $150 million to work on a prototype. Musk himself says that an operational Hyperloop is likely to cost several billion dollars.

HTT exec Gresta is certainly bullish on the prospects. “No doubt about it, Hyperloop is gonna be built,” he said.