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Passengers can ride the hyperloop by 2020, says HTT CEO

Commuters can ride the hyperloop, a futuristic, super-fast transportation system, as early as 2020 and the United Arab Emirates could be the first market for it, according to the chief of one of the companies involved in developing the technology.

Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), told CNBC on the sidelines of the Innovfest Unbound conference in Singapore that the company put the first hyperloop capsule into production three weeks ago.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies CEO Dirk Ahlborn.
Sergei Fadeichev | TASS | Getty Images
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies CEO Dirk Ahlborn.

It will take about a year to produce, after which it will head to the company's R&D center in Toulouse for integration optimization and then it'll head to the first commercial track, where construction will start later this year.

"We will be announcing one of the first commercial routes probably in between the next three to six months," Ahlborn said.

A hyperloop would work by propelling pods through a large tube at speeds of 750 mph using magnets, and is seen as a solution to long distance travel and also means of alleviating congestion. Other startups working on this technology include HTT rival Hyperloop One.

HTT has plans to build a hyperloop track in Quay Valley, California, where the company is doing an environmental study. It has also been exploring feasibility of building in countries from Indonesia to the Czech Republic. But Ahlborn said the first track will unlikely be in Quay Valley.

"(It) is a commercial project that makes sense when the city is there. Until they start construction, it doesn't make sense for us to start there," Ahlborn said, adding it made more sense for HTT, which is largely privately backed, to focus efforts in markets where "governments actually pay us."

That's where the United Arab Emirates (UAE) could potentially have the first operational hyperloop track. Last year, Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipal Affairs and Transport signed the UAE's second hyperloop feasibility study with HTT.

"The Emirates are very pushy," Ahlborn said. "They want to see (the hyperloop) happen and ideally they want to see it happen in the Emirates first."

Ahlborn said HTT was also exploring opportunities in India and China. Local reports in February said HTT was in talks with five Indian states to build hyperloop tracks and was looking to raise $100 million to invest in India.

Strategically, countries like India and Indonesia are key markets to conquer because their vast consumer base and growing economies can offer companies like HTT, which works with transportation companies and licenses its technology, the ability to scale up.

Pricing a hyperloop ticket can be tricky in these markets — if it's too expensive, it could become unaffordable to a large user base. Yet, for a new technology like this, building the infrastructure and the ecosystem would present high fixed costs initially.

But Ahlborn said there were many funds and investors looking into financing the infrastructure.

"Ideally, we would like it to be free (for the passenger). I don't believe that a ticket is the right way to make money on transportation," Ahlborn said, adding there could be other ways to monetize the technology.

— CNBC's Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.