There is a lot of buzz and certainly a healthy amount of skepticism following Elon Musk’s announcement last week that he proposed to build a “Hyperloop” that would travel at incredible speeds and potentially change land-borne mass transportation forever.
As one of the co-founders of PayPal and the chief executive of Tesla Motors (TSLA) and SpaceX, the Wharton School of Business grad has revealed a detailed 57-page proposal for the launch of a super compressed air-driven elevated train which will travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the span of 30 minutes, for a mere $20 each way.
Whether or not this happens, one must admit the concept is revolutionary, and although critics view it as an audacious yet unrealistic vision in eliminating land and air traffic congestion, the remarkably successful 42-year-old South African-born Musk is almost certain that the Hyperloop, will most definitely become a reality by 2020, if not sooner.
And after all, he has already launched his own space program.
Passengers would board aluminum pods powered by turbines and solar energy, which will travel across the Golden State, a distance of over 400 miles from LA to SF, at nearly the speed of sound and faster than most commercial airlines. Two singular tubes would be designed for both directions of travel, operating on Interstate 5.
Over two dozen people will be able to be transported in each pod, which would utilize their own linear induction motors. This would allow for 70 pods leaving at 30 seconds intervals during peak hours.
“It’s the same kind of AC induction motor on the Model S,” says Musk, referring to the Tesla.
A larger system would also allow for the transportation of automobiles.
Although the concept sounds far-fetched to many, it’s rooted in practicality: it’s engineered to withstand earthquakes and won’t impinge on farmland.
But critics are calling the project impractical, although Musk contends that the Hyperloop is more cost effective than the proposed $70 billion California high-speed train that will cover the coastal corridor. It was that boondoggle that inspired Musk to focus on the Hyperloop, which he says will be a fraction of that cost, in the first place.
“I think it’s probably going to be close to $100 billion,” he said, referring to the rail system. “And it seems like it’s going to be less desirable to take that than to take a plane… California taxpayers are not just going to have to write off $100 billion, but they’re also going to have to maintain and subsidize the ongoing operation of this train for a super long time. That just doesn’t seem wise for a state that was facing bankruptcy not that long ago,” he said on a phone call to reporters.
“How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL – doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars – would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?” said Musk in his blog.
He estimates the Hyperloop will cost closer to $6 billion to build.
Concerns such as safety are being addressed. “There is an emergency brake,” says Musk. Of course, related issues are still being ironed out.
Musk has no plans to build the actual craft himself. “I am tempted to make a demonstration prototype. I’ve come around a bit on my thinking that maybe I could do the beginning of it and create a sub scale version and then hand it over to someone else.”
If and when this gets off the ground, there are discussions of delivering this service to the Mid Atlantic and Eastern Seaboard. It would serve the densely populated areas between DC to Boston; given that there is the funding and wherewithal for this additional billion-dollar project, the “Hyperloop” will only be able to travel under 1000 miles.
“Unlike an airplane, it is not subject to turbulence, so there are no sudden movements. It would feel super smooth. It’s like getting on Space Mountain at Disneyland.”
Musk does plan on investing his own money in the project. His company, Space X, is bound to be a solid investor, having generated $5 billion in revenue last year and it is expected to surpass that later this year. “I always invest my own money in the companies that I create. I’m not going to ask other people to invest in something if I’m not prepared to do so myself.”
Peter Thiel said famously said, “We wanted flying cars. Instead we got 140 characters.”
Elon Musk may be the one character that actually pulls this off.