Elon Musk is not a man short of ideas, and his hyperloop concept is also one of his most outlandish. Instead of travelling by airplane, which causes significant environmental damage, or risking life and limb on the highway, why not build a steel tube, give it a partial vacuum, and send pod shaped people carriers though it riding on a cushion of air like the puck in an air hockey game propelled by linear induction motors at speeds of up to 800 MPH? Yeah, that’ll work.
Musk claims his idea could whisk passengers over 400 miles from LA to San Francisco in about 35 minutes, and that it would cost about a tenth as much as the proposed high speed rail system already scheduled to be built in the Golden State. Is Musk crazy?
We’re about to find out. According to a blog post by Navigant Research , HyperLoop Transportation Technologies, the company in charge of developing the concept, has struck a deal with landowners somewhere along the Interstate 5 corridor to construct a 5 mile HyperLoop test track. The project is slated to cost $100,000,000, with that money coming from an HTT initial public offering later this year. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.
HTT estimates it will cost $8 billion to build a HyperLoop link between LA and San Francisco. But, in typical Musk style, that figure totally ignores the costs of developing the system which are expected to be enormous. The test track will be limited to speeds of “only” 200 mph, while kinks in the process are ironed out, like how to accelerate human beings to 800 MPH without making them nauseous, and how to prevent a catastrophic failure.
The proposed Hyperloop as originally envisioned by Musk,would be powered largely by solar panels mounted on top of the system. In theory, the HyperLoop will use much less electrical energy than a comparable magnetic levitation train. The pods will have a front mounted fan that diverts the air in front to the rear, reducing aerodynamic resistance. Riding on a cushion of air, it will have far less rolling resistance than a conventional wheeled vehicle.
The theory is all very nice. In fact, like most Musk ideas, it even makes a certain kind of weird sense. But will it work? The skeptics say no. But Elon Musk does have an enviable record of successfully tackling impossible tasks and making them work, whether it’s taming the complexities of secure online payments with PayPal, bringing roof top solar to America with SolarCity, building a rocket ship from scratch with SpaceX, or inventing the best luxury electric car the world has ever seen with Tesla Motors.
Now we’re about to find out how much hype is actually in the HyperLoop.