Hyperloop: Travel Between Cities 7-8 Hours Apart in 15 mins

Imagine if you could traverse between cities that are apart by usually 7-8 hours of drive time, merely in 15-20 minutes. Then you could live in one city and work in another. In Aug, 2015, Elon Musk published a 57 Page White Paper titled, “Hyperloop Alpha.”



Elon musk was highly disappointed when the California state government approved the high-speed rail project. According to Elon, it was, for lack of better words, a dumb move to launch a project that is both expensive/mile and one of the slowest bullet trains. Thus, he proposed the 5th mode of transport, Hyperloop.

What is Hyperloop?

Hyperloop is a proposed concept for a high-speed transportation system, that incorporates pressurized capsules hovering inside reduced pressure tubes that are mounted on top of pylons, running almost parallel to the interstate expressways.

Who will make the Hyperloop?

The idea of Hyperloop is now bigger than the man himself.

This quote aptly sums up the role that Elon is playing in steering forth the development of the “pipe dream,” Hyperloop. As a result of concerted development and design efforts of a few visionary engineers at Tesla and SpaceX, Elon was able to put together a concept paper for the next generation of transportation. However, he decided to keep it as an open source design, so that other engineers and designers from the around the world could also make their contributions. When asked how difficult it would be to ake this a reality, he says,

“I swear, its not that hard”


What are the biggest challenges?

Ergonomics: Human factor considerations are quite critical in this project. The passengers will feel a great amount of thrust in the pressurized cabins and which will, perhaps, not be suitable for kids, senior citizens or individuals with heart ailments. How do you make the user experience better than the current best experience?

Economic Consideration: Elon and his team did a great job at putting together a concept based on the implementation of some models, but keeping the expenses low while implementing is going to be a tough nut to crack. Also new economic regulations will have to be put in place for this new mode of transportation.

Design: How do you fit humans into those capsules without making them feel claustrophobic, scared and tied up? Design, in this case, is a bigger problem than the technology.

Engineering: How do you make Hyperloop power efficient with zero carbon footprint? And did I add that it has to noise free? Moreover, is it going to be magnetic levitation or wheel?

Safety: What if there is an earthquake and the high-speed capsule pops out of the pipe? We have heard numerous stories of large scale infrastructure failures such as bridges and highways, the pylons are not going to be constructed much differently.

Current Status:

The first major hyperloop event was organized at Texas A&M in Jan, where 120 colleges participated in a design competition to win a unique opportunity to test their design  on a 1-mile-long (1.6 km), 1.8-meter-diameter (6 ft) test track being built by Tesla in southern California.

Musk says he doesn’t have the time to develop the hyperloop, and he also says it’s so easy that his interns can develop it. If you are an engineer, I would like to route you to the white paper published by him 2013. It starts with a layman introduction to the concept but quickly scales to detailed mathematical equations and design specifications. Towards the end, Musk has done a financial breakdown of the project showing the economic viability.

Here’s the paper: http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/hyperloop_alpha.pdf











In the end, I’d like to quote Elon Musk, to give a glimpse of the impact of Hyperloop

Hyperloop could transport people, vehicles, and freight between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 35 minutes. Transporting 7.4 million people each way every year and amortizing the cost of $6 billion over 20 years gives a ticket price of $20 for a one-way trip for the passenger version of Hyperloop.

Darwin Falls

Expedition Hobo


Feb. 05, 2016

 The day started early in anticipation of the morning rush hour.  My brother and I left at 7:15 a.m. to get a head start on our all-morning drive to Death Valley National Park.  It’s virtually impossible to anticipate traffic here so we did have to traverse some inconveniences on the road.  An unforeseen lane closure on the 15 freeway forced us to take a detour on to side streets causing a fifteen to twenty minute delay.  Our path then cleared only to be slowed again by a smaller one lane road, highway 395, filled with eighteen wheeled cargo trucks.  I was then excited to find myself on a much less traveled highway with seemingly no one else on the road.  Little did I know that the route of this highway was through a windy mountain pass on the side of a cliff, highway 178.  It would have been a…

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Wireless Charging: Don’t throw away the cables yet!

Snip20151122_24.png If there’s one thing that is more messed up than any of you friend’s life or yours and much more complicated than any of your relationships or your friends’, its definitely the bunch of tangled wires in the front pocket of your bag and I am positive that we all can unanimously agree upon that. With a noble intent to solve this mess, the onset of wireless charging technology has commenced and we are starting to hear more and more about it. This is still the nascent stage of the technology and there’s no fixed standard or protocol that has been accepted as the most efficient way of charging wirelessly. This post talks about two different wireless charging standards, that are aggressively bidding for mass acceptance and eventually mass production.

Before I give a purview of the wireless charging standards lets talk about some of the concerns that need to be addressed for the user of this technology i.e 24 billion devices by 2020.

  1. Will the wireless charging pads/routers/docks be any more convenient to use than a USB cable?
  2. Will the time to charge be any better or even worse than a USB plugged to a laptop?
  3. Is the wireless charging accessory an add-on to the portable device or is it embedded in the internal device circuitry?
  4. If it’s an add on, then how heavy or easy is it to integrate?
  5. Is it a universal solution for mobile phones, wearables, laptops and other portable devices or do I need one for each?
  6. Do I want to be surrounded by more electromagnetic waves around me?
  7. Is it any more affordable or do I need to invest heavily into this technology?

These were just few of the many questions that are brimming at the top of my head. Lets take a look at the two different wireless charging standards that are evolving as potential solutions:

Qi Wireless Charging Standard: Qi is primarily based on the principle of electromagnetic inductance i.e.  powered by two coils of wire. The transmitting charging coil is driven by alternating current that produces an oscillating magnetic field, and induces an alternating current in the receiving coil located on the device being charged. This alternating current is then converted to  DC, thanks to Tesla, and wireless charging is achieved.


  1. Comes in two form factors: 1. embedded in the mobile device and 2. as an optional smart phone or battery pack case.
  2. Enables almost 5 W of power transfer.


  1. Necessitates a proper alignment of the mobile device and Qi Charging pad for maximum power transfer.
  2. The effectiveness varies with the size of mobile device and docking stations.
  3. The manufacturing cost for this mobile standard is pretty high, the mass production might not be a smart choice.
  4. Can only charge a single device at a time.


Rezence Wireless Charging Standard: Rezence is based on the principle of electromagnetic  resonance. The magnetic resonance is very similar to the electromagnetic induction technology, except that in the former the transmitting and receiving coil are tuned to resonate at the same frequency, better suited to loosely coupled coils.


  1. More suitable for energy transfer over relatively larger distances.
  2. Relatively less sensitive to misalignment of charging dock and portable devices.
  3. Can charge multiple devices simultaneously.


  1. Requires more power supply to the charging pad/station for more effective power transfer.
  2. The manufacturing cost is pretty high.
  3. This technology has not really penetrated the market yet and is still in the development phase.


While Qi does have an early mover’s advantage, the limitations on efficiency and manufacturing cost will become a bottleneck in this charging standard becoming am industrial norm. On the other hand, Rezence, based on magnetic resonance, is a much more practical solution, yet not scalable as the manufacturing cost is still high. There are other evolving methodologies like the Wattup Technology , that uses a radio frequency system to transmit power up to 15 feet from the charging station. I think its too early to place a bet on which technology will win the race or will it be a combination of many. However, the need of the hour is to bring down the manufacturing cost without compromising the power transfer efficiency.

Exciting times lie ahead!





Apple introduces 3D Touch – Thanks to Microsoft !

The grandiloquent product launch of Apple today, sounded something like this, “Today we’re presenting to you a revolutionary technology of Multi-Touch which is called 3 D Touch, which will make your smartphones respond to Force Touch, achieving an impeccable Pressure-Sensitive Touch.” Voila, in a mere 5 seconds, Apple gave birth to 4 synonymous words. That’s how laconic as it gets with Apple. However, with due respect to the engineering involved, a 3D touch essentially commensurates to converting your mobile screen into a mouse trackpad.

As an electronics engineer, I was highly intrigued by this development and I dug deep into the world wide web to explore the working. Extrapolating on the hint provided during the Launch presentation, it is based on the sensors which have been embedded on the display that sense the pressure with which the fingers are pressing the screen. Just like a mouse pad!

While grousing and browsing through the unfiltered search results for this technology, I landed upon the gold mine – The Patent issued to apple for this technology. According to the patent issued, this technology is able to detect both force and touch using FTIR and capacitive location. Here is a snippet from the patent application abstract:

Capacitive sensing can determine (A) where the finger actually touches, so the touch device more accurately infers applied force; (B) whether finger touches shadow each other; (C) as a baseline for applied force; or (D) whether attenuated reflection is due to a current optical coupling, or is due to an earlier optical coupling, such as a smudge on the cover glass.

Source: US Patent and Trademark Office

For the lesser enlightened, FTIR stands for Frustrated Total Internal Reflection. On doing more search, I found out that Microsoft has been extensively working on this technology for almost a decade now. A research published by Microsoft defines a FTIR setup as follows:

The most common FTIR set-up has a transparent acrylic pane, with a frame of LEDs around its edges, into which infrared light is injected (see Figure (left)). When the user touches the acrylic, the light escapes and is reflected at the finger’s point of contact due to its higher refractive index; an infrared-sensitive camera can then clearly see these reflections. A basic set of computer-vision algorithms is applied to the camera image to determine the location of the contact point.

According to this research paper, in 2007, Microsoft announced the Surface multi-touch table which uses the embedded multi-touch interactive screen and called it the Microsoft PixelSense experience. Not sardonically speaking, Apple has lived up to the reputation of wrapping around an existing, but dormant, latent or lesser known technology, with a premium user experience and stitching it to a broad based application, before presenting it in a flamboyant manner to the world.

Dr Kalam’s vision for 2020: The onus is on us

Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam has touched our lives in a way that the impact will last for eternity.


In his honour, the least that we can do is to work to the best of our potential and bring Dr Kalam’s vision of 2020 for India into a reality. We are still far from it, but working tirelessly towards the goal is the least we can do for him, for ourselves.

To recapitulate the 5 major areas of development as Dr Kalam points out in the Vision 2020:

  1. Agriculture and Food Processing: With all four seasons and fertile land conditions, India is very well suited to be a dominating agrarian country. Let’s get back to it!
  1. Infrastructural growth with reliable electric power: Growth doesn’t commensurate to fulfilling the needs of the hour. It rather suggests a sustainable scaling of infrastructure that can meet the needs of today as well as tomorrow.
  1. Education and Healthcare: These are the two main aspects that ensure the social security of an individual. Lets strive towards educating ourselves rather than being just literate.
  1. Information and Communication Technology: We are showing good trends in this department, especially in the fields of telecommunication and remote education services. However, there is still a lot of scope of improvement in e-governance and telemedicine.
  1. Critical Technologies and Strategic Industries: It is a matter of great pride for all of us that ISRO has put us on the space map, time and again, with the gigantic projects successfully implemented. fortunately, Dr Kalam witnessed the upsurge. We need to establish ourselves as world leaders and attract industries to our motherland. Better land laws and labour reforms will only help!

We need to work together as a unit, a nation. Do what you are doing in the best way that you can. As long as we are sincere and honest to our trait, Dr. Kalam’s vision will come into a reality.

I would like to quote Dr. Kalam

You cannot change your future, but you can change your habits and surely your habits will change your future.

Dr. Kalam – may your soul rest in peace.

The Tech Behind: “WiFi on Air” at 30,000 feet!

klm-wifi-logo-largeIt’s fascinating to see that many airlines in United States are offering “WiFi on Air” packages to the passengers. Most of the passengers are happily paying for such packages, maybe not as much for actual utility, as for the delight of texting their friends – “Guess where I’m texting from?!” The technology is still in the nascent stage, where you can complain about it being expensive and yet too slow. However, it is undoubtedly a big leap in technology. Let’s see how all of this works out for us at over 30,000 ft!

There are primarily two ways in which a WiFi communication network can be established within the high-flying airplanes.

Air To Ground Based Link: The first one is Air to Ground based, where an antenna is attached to the bottom of the plane to transmit and receive signals from ground based towers. The working is pretty much the same as cellular connections, however the operating frequency is 3GHz. The signal is transmitted from the plane to the nearest ground tower, which in turn relays the signal to the ground station. The ground station transmits the data to the ground tower which in turn relays the signal to the plane. There are almost 200 ground towers in USA that are dedicated to establish this communication network and more and more are coming up. The bandwidth for data is not that great, at 3.2 Mbps, that too not for each customer but for the entire plane! So limit yourselves to texting without any Voice over IP and video streaming applications. Such a communication system can be made more effective by using directional antennas on the plane for a more focused capturing of beam and thus, enhancing the bandwidth to 9.8 Mbps. It is but obvious, that such a system will cry out loud when the plane is flying over water bodies, as there will be no nearest tower to relay the signal to/from!

Satellite Based Link: The second one is Satellite Based network, where an antenna is attached to the top of the plane to transmit and receive the signals to the ground stations via satellites. The plane sends a request for data to the satellites, which communicates the same to the ground station. The ground stations sends the data for the requested web page to the satellite, which in turn relays the same to the plane. In this kind of a communication link we can achieve data rates from 10-30 Mbps. The operating frequency is in the Ku Band i.e. 12-18GHz. The satellites can take care of communication over Atlantic and Pacific ocean too!

It will be intriguing to see how this technology morphs into a more sophisticated form with higher data rates, more connectivity and availability at cheaper cost, in the coming time. The fear of hacking into the plane system is minimal with the differentiation of the operating frequency bands, however, the risk of opening up more an more communication links can’t be denied.