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Hyperloop Transportation Technologies signs deal with South Korea to begin building system

  • Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has signed a licensing agreement with the South Korean government.
  • The South Korean government will get access to HTT's technology to develop a hyperloop system known as the Hyper Tube Express.
  • Construction could potentially start in 2018, according to HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), one of the firms developing Elon Musk's vision of ultra-speed travel through tubes, has signed its first commercial deal to license its technology to South Korea, making the Asian country potentially one of the first to get the futuristic system.

A hyperloop would work by propelling pods through a large tube at speeds of 750 mph using magnets, and was originally thought up by billionaire Elon Musk in 2013.

The agreement will see South Korea's government of technological innovation and infrastructure, the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT), and Hanyang University use HTT's technology.

This will include licensing and research development of the tube infrastructure and safety platform, a full-scale test track, and access to HTT's levitation, propulsion, and battery technology as well as passenger experience designs.

Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, said the specifics in terms of revenues and what exactly the company will share with Korea has not been decided. But the aim is to license HTT's technology as well as co-develop new features with the Korean institutes.

A rendering of a Hyperloop by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
Source: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
A rendering of a Hyperloop by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

"We haven't defined the specifics yet. We are in the process of knowledge sharing. We had first talks about the different areas of co-development. It's not set in stone yet," Ahlborn told CNBC in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, the South Korean government along with academic institutions announced plans to create a Hyperloop train called the Hyper Tube Express (HTX). It would travel at around 620 miles per hour, meaning the roughly 200 mile journey from Seoul to Busan would take 20 minutes. The aim is to connect the HTX to many major cities in South Korea.

Ahlborn said the timeline is still not set in stone, but now the government will have access to HTT's technology, it could speed up development.

"I will estimate that beginning of next year they will be ready to start construction," Ahlborn said.

HTT has been working with a number of governments to try to commercialize its technology. But so far it is has just been carrying out so-called "feasibility studies" — with the aim of exploring if a hyperloop system is economically viable in some countries. Such studies are ongoing in Abu Dhabi, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Indonesia.

Last year, HTT showed off the magnetic technology that would propel the pods forward. And this year, the company is developing the passenger pod which is set to be revealed in 2018.

But it is not the only company developing a hyperloop system. Rival firm Hyperloop One is also working on its own version of the transport system. It is currently building a test track in the Nevada desert.