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Week in Tech: Virgin Hyperloop Welcomes Its First Test Passengers
Architect Magazine
Washington, DC, USA
Media, Architecture, Interior Design
Date Published: 
Transportation, Transit, Hyperloop, Nevada, Testing, Safety, Higher Education, Research, Materials, Foam Insulation, Carbon, Global Warming, Climate Change
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2020-12-04 17:25:59
2020-12-04 17:39:24
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Virgin Hyperloop
Plus, a lower impact insulation foam from the University of North Texas College of Engineering, carbon dioxide concentrations have not decreased during the pandemic, and more design-tech news from the week.

On the heels of revealing its West Virginia certification center, the high-speed transportation company Virgin Hyperloop carried human travelers in a hyperloop pod for the first time as part of a test in the Nevada Desert overseen by Independent Safety Assessor, a third-party evaluator of railway and urban transportation safety. The passengers—Hyperloop co-founder and chief technology officer Josh Giegel and director of passenger experience Sara Luchian—rode in one of the company's custom XP-2 vehicle, designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group and Amsterdam-based industrial design studio Kilo Design. The demo vehicle was constructed to "demonstrate that passengers can in fact safely travel in a hyperloop vehicle," according to a Virgin Hyperloop press release. “I can’t tell you how often I get asked ‘is hyperloop safe?,’” said Virgin Hyperloop CEO Jay Walder in the same release. “With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment, but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety which has been validated by an independent third party.” [Virgin Hyperloop]

Although initial COVID-19 lockdowns temporarily reduced global CO2 emissions, a report from the World Meteorological Organization has found that these reduction did nothing to curb the record levels of greenhouse gasses trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere. While the lockdowns did cut emissions, they had little effect on global CO2 concentrations than any other annual fluctuation due to factors such as the state of vegetation carbon sinks. As a result, 2020 saw a continued rise in CO2 levels. “The COVID-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change," said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas in a press release. "However, it does provide us with a platform for more sustained and ambitious climate action to reduce emissions to net zero through a complete transformation of our industrial, energy and transport systems." [WMO]

Researchers from the University of North Texas College of Engineering have developed a new form of sustainable insulation foam. Let by UNT professor Nandika D'Souza, the research team first mixed a corn-based polylactic acid with cellulose fibers. They then used supercritical carbon dioxide (a fluid state carbon dioxide held above its critical temperature and pressure) to create an energy efficient and compostable foam that boasts a 12% increase in heating and cooling over conventional polyurethane-based insulation. "What I loved about this project is its ability to cross disciplines between construction and mechanical engineering," D'Souza said in a university press release. "Meeting two National Academy of Engineering grand challenges, the project uses carbon dioxide from carbon sequestration to improve and restore infrastructure." [UNT]

While planting trees and protecting existing forests are effective approaches to combating climate change, they're also expensive. Researchers from the Ohio State University have found that merely protecting trees could reduce CO2 emissions by 6 gigatons a year—10% of what is needed to keep the climate from warming 1.5 C or 2 C—from 2025 to 2055; however, the measures could cost up to $393 billion a year. “What we see is that you should devote about a third of your effort to this stuff and two-thirds to the other stuff—to reducing coal, to investing in solar, to switching to electric,” said Ohio State University professor and study co-author Brent Sohngen. “If you want your total mitigation to be as cheap as possible, that’s what you would do." [Ohio State University]

The Los Angeles–based rendering software developer Chaos Group has launched Chaos Vantage, a stand-alone program that "allows users to instantly explore their 3D scenes in a fully ray traced, real-time environment," according to a company press release. The new application includes object transformation controls, collision detection, and a record camera. It is designed to accommodate large scenes without losing detail or displaying a significant decrease in speed. [Chaos Group]

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