LOS ANGELES – Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk urged the public to polish sketch plans he released last week for a “Hyperloop” that would shoot capsules full of people at the speed of sound through elevated tubes connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.
From tinkerers to engineers, the race is on.
A Utah firm hustled out a model using a 3-D printer. A Pennsylvania company is testing a virtual Hyperloop with sophisticated computer software. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants ad space inside capsules, and in San Francisco, enthusiasts interested in “making Hyperloop a reality” will meet over beers.
Meanwhile, Musk himself has shelved the project and returned to his established future-is-here transportation ventures: luxury electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. and the rocket-building company SpaceX.
In principle, the Hyperloop is doable.
The concept pulls together several proven technologies: Capsules would float on a thin cushion of air and draw on magnetic attraction and solar power to zoom through a nearly air-free tube. Because there would be so little wind resistance, they could top 700 mph and make the nearly 400-mile trip in about half an hour.
Actual construction would hinge on money and politics.
The $6 billion Musk projected as the cost was a terrific lowball to some. Others suggested his timeframe of a decade to completion was naive – that getting political backing and environmental clearances, much less land to build the tubes on, would be time-consuming.
Conspicuously absent was a commitment that Musk would sink substantial money into the project anytime soon – if ever. On a call with reporters, Musk suggested he might build a “subscale” test version in a few years if the idea was foundering.
One thing Musk was clear about: The public should participate in questioning, modifying and, ultimately, perfecting his proposal.
And in that respect, there has been no lack of enthusiasm.