Urban Transport

Concorde meets railgun – SpaceX founder's plan for future rapid transport

Concorde meets railgun – Space...
Elon Musk expounding on his theoretical Hyperloop transportation system at Thursday's Economist Innovation Awards (Photo: Gizmag)
Elon Musk expounding on his theoretical Hyperloop transportation system at Thursday's Economist Innovation Awards (Photo: Gizmag)
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Elon Musk expounding on his theoretical Hyperloop transportation system at Thursday's Economist Innovation Awards (Photo: Gizmag)
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Elon Musk expounding on his theoretical Hyperloop transportation system at Thursday's Economist Innovation Awards (Photo: Gizmag)

Taking to the stage at this year's Economist Innovation Awards, Elon Musk of SpaceX let slip a few more choice details about his "Hyperloop" high-speed transportation system that would see commuters travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco in a mere 30 minutes, describing the concept for the first time as a cross between Concorde and railgun.

During a show-stealing acceptance speech, Musk explained that, in order to be worth while, the technology must exceed the merits of existing transport systems by being much faster and cheaper while remaining weatherproof and, "ideally," crash proof. "Ideally, he added again, for tongue-in-cheek emphasis.

Musk further hinted that the Hyperloop transport would leave as you arrived to board, and have to deal with "right of way" issues. It may sound crazy, but there was a time he talked this way about commercial spaceflight and we know how that turned out.

Musk also confirmed his ambition to die on Mars, though not, he quipped, upon impact.

Color us intrigued...

22 comments
zevulon
hyper loop is nothing more than evacuated tube transport using magrails for propulsion,. this concept has been around for a while and there are a number of organization dedicated to it. it's a pie in the sky idea, not because it's not theoretically possible but because it's not economically viable with respect to the infrastructure costs to roll it out. this is obvious to any casual observers of the failure of the promoters of evacuated tube transport. when you sell an idea saying it's worth the 500 billion dollars to layitout because x...y...z....you wind up realizing it's a hoax. if an idea is not viable on a small scale its never going to be testable. no one is going to scale out a 500 b project without proof it works on a small scale. hence suggesting to build something no one will build is somewhat of a quiotic suggestion not to be taken too seriouly. musk getting up on stage and publicly announcing his 'secret' actually just shows he's delusional rather than merely a risk taker. he's done reasonably well with space x. and with tesla. neither of these companies are revolutionary. they took mostly existing tech and made marginal improvement. both companies are fully dependent on government contracts and government money. neither company could compete without tax payer forced money. tesla itself is going to go bankrupt at some point if they cannot find a big car company to buy them and take the losses. musk is no tesla. and the notion that he is going to die on mars----to get up on stage and say it shows a typical brazen attitude of people destined for some catastrophic over-confidence based mis-judgement.
calvinkid
@ zevulon Musk is an entrepreneur. It's a common fallacy these days, one that has been spurred on by pro-against Apple arguments, that innovation on the scale of Edison or Tesla is the only thing that gives you a right to dream. In fact, single handed innovation is long gone. As an entrepreneur of companies like Paypal, Tesla and then SpaceX, he probably has a better idea of billion dollar projects than you do. I think his idea is worthwhile. If it is not possible according to physics, then that's a different issue. Go back to the drawing board. However, if the problem is implementation logistics, we'll find a way around it. Cars, trains and planes were the domain of the wealthy, till they were not. Even if not for NY to CA travel, why not start developing a system that will be viable on a moonbase or Mars ? The problem is that our cities are not designed with present transport technology in mind. But new cities that we design can definitely implement them. Why not set up cities around these transport hubs? I'm sure companies would flock to make it a new Silicon Valley if it makes their commutes easier.
Gildas Dubois
Private space launch on a dime was also impossible. As in all problems there are variables, he is probably finding ways to work around them or just remove them. We can trust Musk to give it a fair crack. G
VoiceofReason
The US is one of the few industrial power house that doesn't have a high speed rail. This is NOT the one to build. Let him figure out a regular high speed corridor first before we start building this complete pipe dream. Pun intended.
Gordon Cyrus
The maglev technology was first patented 14 February 1905 and exists at Disney World since at least 40 years. You get rid of air resistance and you can do Paris - Beijing in 2 hours. Since there are no moving parts, no friction and uses a fraction of the energy an airplane uses for the same distance it is NOT capitalism. We can only hope humanity smartens up anytime soon. Elon showed the world what he could do with the electric car that dates back to 1837, we can only hope he will do the same with trains. But since an electric car only cost 250 USD to drive 25 000 miles or one time around the planet, I am sure the resistance to change to something better, smarter, faster and cleaner is more than difficult.
Lumen
While I respect Elon's drive regarding Hyperloop, there is a big challenge traveling that fast on the ground in California: earthquakes. The distance between LA and San Francisco is about 300 air miles. If Elon is considering a 30-minute travel time, then the pods would be traveling an average of around 600 MPH, and would likely cross the San Andreas fault. And of course, the faster you travel, the longer it takes for an emergency stop during a significant tremor situation. There would need to be a buffer system that near eliminates both earthquake-caused turbulence within the tube, as well as the potential for structural defects. Whether Elon has considered this, I do not know. To Gordon: While you're correct that maglev tech has been around for a while, Disney World's system is not maglev. Your point is well taken however regarding maglev and electric cars. To Zevulon: Where did you get such a figure of $500 billion? Cursory research on Hyperloop reveals Elon estimating $6 billion, which is much less than the near $100 million for the California High-Speed Rail system, which is going through its phases. If you want to travel fast, we've got to take to the air in an inexpensive and safe way.
ray4
This idea reminds me of Swissmetro, a futuristic Swiss national transportation project using vactrain technology, that went into liquidation in November 2009 because of a lack of support. Since Switzerland is a small country, the project development should have been done together with the surrounding countries of Germany, France, Italy and Austria. See all details at www.swissmetro.ch/en
Sergius
We aren't so far off levitation magnetic capsules travels , without wheels, motors or batteries. Moreover, these capsules can also replace the elevators in skyscrapers, and let us in the door of the office or home. The transportation, as known has its decades counted.
L. Weisdorn
zevulon Entrepreneurs think "outside the box". Your immediate assumption is that to get from L.A. to San Francisco you have to do it like the proposed Bullet Train, over the mountains and through the farmland. Thinking outside of the box, I would put a station in Santa Monica and lay my tubing on the continental shelf and enjoy my high speed commute to San Francisco underwater! Lawrence Weisdorn
PatrikD
A vacuum tube magrail was the first thing I thought of as well, when Musk started talking about Hyperloop. But not too much of what he's let slip so far seems to fit that technology. In fact, his most recent mention of right of way issues seems to be the closest hint in that direction. I think I'll reserve judgement until we know a little more. There's little that can't be achieved with enough brains, money and drive, and so far Musk seems to have all three on his side...