Can the human body withstand the pressure and speeds of the hyperloop?Peter Brown | November 03, 2020
The hyperloop is a proposed new method of transportation that involves using pods to send both people and cargo through a depressurized environment via magnetic levitation at speeds above 600 mph.
But can a human body withstand the pressure and speed of traveling at these speeds safely? That’s what researchers at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) at West Virginia University seek to test, working with Virgin Hyperloop ahead of the construction of the recently introduced Hyperloop Certification Center (HCC) located in West Virginia.
Hyperloop technology uses magnetic levitation to lift a pod off the track and guide it as it moves, creating a friction-free track. Almost all the air in the tube surrounding the pod is removed to create the same environment found at 200,000 ft above sea level. The combination of the linear motor, magnetic levitation and low-pressure tube reduces drag so that only a small amount of electricity is needed to propel the pod at speeds as high as 670 mph. This could possibly create a more cost-effective system than high-speed rail or airline transportation.
Purportedly, a hyperloop could connect cities such as Pittsburgh and Chicago in 41 minutes or New York City to Washington D.C. in just 30 minutes.
RNI plans to study how traveling at excessive speeds may impact the brain and body. RNI has established a framework and tools that Virgin Hyperloop can apply at its certification center, which will span 800 acres in Tucker and Grant counties in West Virginia. Construction of the HCC is slated to begin in 2021 with a planned welcome center, certification track and operations center, pod final assembly facility, production development test center and operations, maintenance and safety training center.
"These are super-high fast trains," said Ali Rezai, executive chair, vice president of neuroscience and associate dean of RNI. "Fundamentally, the RNI can collaborate with Virgin Hyperloop with a focus on safety, functionality and performance, for example, the neuroscience of workload, stress, cognitive ability and all other functions that can be quantified and measured, with respect to system users like passengers and operators.”
Rezai said human functions could be impacted by high speed and the perception of knowing how fast the pods are moving. Without windows in these hyperloop pods or any frame of reference, a person’s balance, sensing, motor and other nervous system functions may be impacted.
“We'll be looking at all of these factors in an integrated framework that measures physiological function and performance of the team and system operators and the passenger,” Rezai said.
RNI has developed several wearables — from wristwatches to clothing — that constantly monitors a person’s vitals and collects health data. Applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to the data allows the research team to predict health outcomes and behaviors. These devices could be applied to help test the hyperloop’s impact on the human body.
"We are going to use wearable technologies to quantify the physiology of humans," Rezai said. "From eye trackers to body sensors to electrocardiograms and electroencephalograms, we can measure, quantify and make sense of what's happening to the human body at 600 mph."
For workers of the hyperloop, they will need to train to be fit, mentally and physically to achieve the target goals that will be needed to operate a pod for a prolonged period of time, RNI said. For passengers, the RNI will examine and offer recommendations on the point-to-point experience that the hyperloop will offer. This includes digital infrastructures to help from purchasing to arriving at a destination, environmental factors such as vibration, lighting, ergonomics, motion sickness and use of advanced recovery modalities during ride times.
The end goal will be to make the entire system operate safely and securely with maximum efficiency for the beginning of the hyperloop through its commercialization.