Talking tech since 2003

Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, has parted the curtain on his latest attempt to change the world through technology. Hyperloop is his vision for bringing a maglev train system to the world that aims to move people at speeds upwards of 700 miles per hour. Musk has previously boasted that Hyperloop could make a trip from LA to San Francisco in a half-hour. That’s a bold and exciting claim, and if it proves to be true, could change the way people all over the world could connects with each other.

According to a post on Musk’s SpaceX blog and Tesla Motors blog, Hyperloop is basically a combination of an old-style pneumatic vacuum tube and a maglev train, which will shoot traveler-filled pods across great distances at very high speeds. As for how these tubes will sustain such high-velocity pods, the answer for Musk is right above us:

“For the full explanation, please see the technical section, but the short answer is that by placing solar panels on top of the tube, the Hyperloop can generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate. This takes into account storing enough energy in battery packs to operate at night and for periods of extended cloudy weather. The energy could also be stored in the form of compressed air that then runs an electric fan in reverse to generate energy, as demonstrated by LightSail.”

Overall, the cost of the Hyperloop project Musk is proposing is “under $6 billion USD,” with tickets that would cost “about $20 USD (in current year dollars) plus operating costs per one-way ticket on the passenger Hyperloop.”

Can it be done? Is it feasible? I’m not smart enough to know, but I’m sure that plenty of people will weigh in on Musk’s idea within the next 24 hours.

Now, from what little I understand of traditional maglev transportation in general—and I should point out that Hyperloop is anything but traditional—it seems that the faster the train goes, the more power-efficient it becomes. The trick, then, is creating a system that could support traveling at such high speeds, and to do so in a way that is both economically and environmentally sustainable. Musk’s idea to combine vacuum tubes, maglev tech, and solar power seems like it’d account for all of that. The only thing left to determine, of course, is whether or not it could actually work.

This isn’t the first example of Musk’s desire to bring about a revolution in the way people get from one point to another. Tesla Motors, of course, is so far the most feasible example of bringing electric cars to the masses, which would reduce consumers’ reliance on fossil fuels (a goal clearly shared by Hyperloop, as well). SpaceX isn’t quite as commercially viable as a Tesla car, but it does represent the most successful effort yet to privatize space travel. While neither venture has managed to actually bring about all of the changes they promise, the fact that they’ve both managed to do as much as they have reveals the strength of Musk as a visionary.

Let’s hope that Musk and his team or someone with enough funds and know-how find a way to bring Hyperloop to reality. Your thoughts on the proposal?

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