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Thu., Aug. 22, 2013, 6:29 p.m.

Elon Musk’s 800mph people tube

 (Tesla Motors / Tesla Motors)
(Tesla Motors / Tesla Motors)

If any billionaire entrepreneur besides Elon Musk said he’d like to shoot me through a tube at close to the speed of sound I probably wouldn’t consider it.  But Musk has an impressive track record of bringing Jetson-esque pipe dreams to practical (and profitable) realities.  Still, the Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO’s latest solution for the future of transportation is his hardest to stomach yet.

Spurned by California’s plans to build a high-speed rail line, Musk recently devised what he believes to be a far superior alternative to alleviating Cali’s infrastructure woes: 

The Hyperloop

In the most simple of terms the Hyperloop would be an enclosed tube that carries capsules of people traveling at over 800mph.  The capsules would float on pockets of air, propelled by a linear induction motor; kind of like a hockey puck on an air hockey table, only the puck would help provide its own lift.

“When the California ‘high speed’ rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too,” Musk said.  “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?” 

Musk, being the go-getter that he is, has already detailed the cost for a 350-mile Hyperloop connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco, which by matter of pure coincidence happens span the commute between his home and office.  Musk believes the loop would cost just $6 billion and rocket passengers from point A to point B in 35 minutes, or about one-tenth the price of California’s proposed high-speed rail system at five times the speed.

Of course Musk’s ambitious plan is drawing its fair share of critics.  Their reasons for why the Hyperloop isn’t feasible range from higher construction cost estimates, enormous levels of heat generated within the tube system, land use grievances, and whether any sane person would want to break the sound barrier in a giant interoffice mail tube.

But as I said earlier, Musk has yet to come up with a zany idea that failed to gain traction when he set his mind and pocketbook to it.  Thanks in large part to his work, both electric cars and commercial space travel are beginning to lose their novelty and make unprecedented turns toward the mainstream.  No doubt, it would take a large helping of Musk’s credibility to make the Hyperloop emerge as a sober alternative to a good ol’ fashion bullet train.  Then again, if there’s a guy that could pull it off it would have to be Musk.         

Watch the Hyperloop in action here.


Tesla Motors

The Guardian

The Seattle Times

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