It's faster than a speeding bullet train, and cheaper, too. It's
a bit like Space Mountain at Disneyland, except that it can get you
from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes. It would be
virtually impossible to crash, and cost only $6 billion to build. A
ticket might cost only $20.
All of the above hints had been used by serial entrepreneur Elon
Musk to describe his "hyperloop" mass transit system. But as of
Monday, anyone can read about it in far more detail in a document
that Musk has posted on his
, as promised.
Musk, whose name is often preceded by the label "visionary," wants
to stir interest in his concept for a low-cost, self-powering,
super-high-speed rail service between Los Angeles and San
Francisco. It would go 800 miles per hour, with stops along the
He has said he is seeking no patents, and is making the concept
publicly available in order to advance the discussion and,
hopefully, spur testing and prototyping of a working model.
Interestingly, during a phone press conference on Monday, he said a
couple of things that make it sound as if he's not quite so willing
to let go now, despite the fact that he's pretty fully booked
running Tesla Motors and Space X, the private space exploration
company he also co-founded.
In the phone conference, Musk said he would be willing to invest
his own money in hyperloop development, and possibly his time, too:
"Maybe I would just do the beginning bit, create a subscale version
that is operating and then hand it over to someone else,"
he is quoted as saying
He said the plans were developed by a team of a dozen engineers
from Tesla and Space X, though they created it as a "background
task" in addition to their usual jobs.
Based on his written description, the hyperloop would involve a
low-pressure tube equipped with passenger "pods" that hover on a
cushion of air. An electric compressor fan attached to the nose of
the pod would push high-pressure air from the front to the rear of
the vessel in order to propel the pod. An electric motor would be
used to accelerate the pod to high speed, and to provide a periodic
boost. In fact, that part works a bit like the motor on the Tesla
Model S, according to the document.
Musk is not trying to test any new laws of physics, or invent any
unique technology here, and he is not claiming to have done so. In
fact, Wired.com says
the basic notion
has been around for 100 years, not to mention being featured in the
If you really want to understand the physics, Wired's article is
He is throwing the concept out there-and putting his reputation on
the line, as co-founder of
), chairman, chief product architect and CEO of Tesla Motors, and
CEO of SpaceX.
To some extent, the motivation appears to be embarrassment. As a
Silicon Valley guy, Musk is disdainful of the plans for a
high-speed rail service in California which he says will be one of
the world's slowest bullet trains, despite an estimated
construction cost of $69 billion.
Not to mention that it's going on 50 years since Japan introduced
the first high-speed train. It has been 19 years since Britain and
France cooperated long enough to complete the Chunnel, linking
London and Paris in a two-hour journey. But still, the US has only
a single leg of one service, Amtrak's Acela Express, which
qualifies as high-speed. It apparently can travel 149 miles per
hour along a stretch through Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
So, it would indeed be an advance to build a system that could go
800 miles per hour and cost an estimated $6 billion. (It would be
elevated, thus requiring less purchase of private land along the
So, where does all this go from here? Probably nowhere, unless Musk
keeps pushing the discussion long enough to move the proposal to
the next stage. That will probably take more than one entrepreneur,
and more than one billionaire.
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