Test track to get flying in Colorado
The world’s next evolution in hyperspeed commuting will start west of Denver International Airport and ultimately could cost local drivers the same price they pay to travel Colorado’s toll roads.
Arrivo, the Los Angeles high-speed transit startup, will open a new research and development center in Commerce City in the first quarter of next year. The company, whose cofounders hail from Virgin Hyperloop One and SpaceX, will then build a half-mile test track to study the commercial viability of a new type of roadway where humans don’t do the driving. Instead, the high-tech roads and autonomous pods racing at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour will handle the movement.
“People will tell you that a well-functioning freeway can move 2,000 to 2,500 vehicles an hour,” co-founder Brogan BamBrogan said at a Tuesday news conference. “The Arrivo system — because it’s a dedicated roadway with 21st century technology — can move 20,000 vehicles an hour.”
Arrivo is using technology available today but unproven to be commercially viable.
It’s similar to Virgin Hyperloop One, which BamBrogan also co-founded but left after a legal battle last year.
But where hyperloop relies on vacuums and tunnels, Arrivo plans to build on existing roadways and use electronics and magnets to accelerate the autonomously moving pods. Pods would hold cars, freight or, like a mini bus shuttle, people.
BamBrogan, a former SpaceX engineer, likened the process to what the Elon-Musk founded company did for space travel.
“We didn’t invent going to space,” BamBrogan said. “We just did it massively cheaper by bringing technology into the house and unbundling the tech elements.”
In 2018, Arrivo plans to invest $10 million to $15 million in Colorado on the research facility and test track, located at an unused toll station at the intersection of the toll road and East 96th Avenue. The company plans to hire about 40 to 50 engineers next year and expand to about 200 engineers by 2020. The state has offered about $760,000 in performance-based incentives if Arrivo meets hiring goals.
Sandra Bish, director of technology for E-470 Public Highway Authority, said that the agency no longer uses the stations since all billing is done electronically based on a license plate number or toll tag. The 2acre site near East 96th currently has unused offices that will be leased to Arrivo.
And using existing tollroad prices — traveling end to end currently costs about $15 — Arrivo calculated that capital expenditures into the road system would pay off in about 10 years, making it profitable in the long run.
BamBrogen did not give an estimate for how much such a project would ultimately cost to build. By comparison, Colorado’s bid to build a hyperloop system along the Front Range puts the cost at $24 billion.
The enormity of Arrivo’s idea isn’t lost on Bhatt.
“As they prove out the technology and we prove the feasibility, then in a couple of years, we’ll talk about whether there is an infrastructure investment here,” Bhatt said, adding that CDOT invested $200,000 to study hyperloop-like technologies. “There’s no commitment by the state to say we’re going to definitely build one here, but we’re pretty confident that they’ll deliver a product that will move people quickly and safely.”