While you were sleeping this morning, multi-entrepreneur Elon Musk announced the much anticipated detail of his plan for a 5th transport type. Dubbed Hyperloop, the system came about as a result of the US government investing billions in a so called bullet train that was ‘one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world’.
Musk believes there’s a better option, that’s both faster and significantly cheaper. The United States are facing similar traffic congestion issues that Australia is, albeit on a larger and more critical scale. Flying cars are kind of out of the question given most people struggle with 2 dimensions, introducing a third would be a disaster. We’d need complete automation before that became viable. The other option of course would be teleportation which Musk asks (someone please do this), so I guess we won’t see that from him any time soon.
So now to the detail of Hyperloop. It’s a tube system that would contain capsules or pods to carry passengers. By using a cushion of air, like an air hockey table, and an electric compressor fan on the nose of the pod that actively transfers high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel, a low friction system is created and could more the pods at over 1126.5408 km per hour (or 700mph). This Mach 1.1 would be delivered in a way that placed acceptable levels of geforces on the human body.
Naturally the question turns to the source of energy for the electric compressor on the pod and that’s where Musk’s solar genetics come into it. Around 1% of the tube would contain inductive power sections every 100km or so to charge on-board batteries which would power the pod for the rest of the journey.
Basically Hyperloop is like a monorail if it were designed in 2013 and about a billion times cooler.
Musk puts some sensible parameters around the implementation of Hyperloop, based on his calculations, he says that city end points would need to be less than 1500km apart, longer distances are better served by supersonic air travel Concorde anyone?
So if you’re on-board with the concept of how it would work, we quickly move to the reality of cost. Musk says even if it cost several billion, it’s still a great deal compared to the several tens of billions for a slower California rail project. One of the biggest savings for the project is the idea that it can be pre-fabricated offsite, joined with an orbital seam welder and installed on pylons near highway. This would minimise the cost of purchasing land which is often a large cost in infrastructure projects (just ask the Victorian government).
Even though this was announced just this morning, there’s already plenty of conversation online asking if it’s possible to stop the current rail project in California to seriously consider Hyperloop as an option.
The system consists of capsules that travel between Los Angeles, California and San Francisco, California. The total trip time is approximately half an hour, with capsules departing as often as every 30 seconds from each terminal and carrying 28 people each.
So it’s a bold idea and a concept from on of the most brilliant minds on the planet. The plans are currently in Alpha and Musk is asking for feedback on them. The detailed plan is 57 pages.. but if this was to become a reality, there’d need to be much more detail.
Let’s assume for a second that the technology works and the world then has a 5th mode of transport to choose from (plane, train, car, boat, hyperloop). Should Australia consider this technology as a plan or even an option for the future of Australia’s transport woes? Imagine going living in Melbourne and commuting to Sydney in 30 minutes for $20, would you do it? Or making the trip to Perth in an hour.
If this was a regular person proposing this bold idea, they’d be laughed out of town, but Elon Musk has a great record of executing on crazy ideas that others won’t. He says he doesn’t want to run it personally, but I suspect he’ll remain a key architect and that we will see Hyperloop in some form.
More information about Hyperloop at http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/hyperloop