Test track to get flying in Colorado

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Ta­mara Chuang

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.”

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