By August 12...Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX and chairman of SolarCity, has been teasing us for a while what he calls the 'Hyperloop', a "fifth mode of transportation" that would provide a very high-speed, high-efficiency, and safe alternative to boats, planes, automobiles and trains.
Musk first announced the Hyperloop in July 2012 at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica, California. Musk estimated the cost of the SF-LA Hyperloop would be about US$6 billion, one tenth as costly as the proposed high speed rail serving those cities. He has revealed that the Hyperloop is not the same as a vacuum tunnel.Musk has likened the hyperloop to both a ground-based Concorde and a "cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table", while noting that it has no need for rails. He believes it could work either below or above ground. Details of the system are still emerging. (source)
A safe cross between the Concorde, a railgun, and a air hockey table? Count me in!
Maybe it'll look like Futurama's tubes:
Or the grandaddy of them all:
And there's already a company working on vacuum tube transport:
The good news is that we won't have to wait much longer for details:
Will publish Hyperloop alpha design by Aug 12. Critical feedback for improvements would be much appreciated.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 15, 2013
And it'll be a design that anyone can try to implement:
@schadlu I really hate patents unless critical to company survival. Will publish Hyperloop as open source.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 15, 2013
Update: Lloyd wrote some very interesting posts about pneumatic transportation systems:
I'm guessing that Musk's Hyperloop will be different (I'm guessing Musk's thing will use tubes that have very low air pressure - too hard to get a complete vacuum, but the less air, the less friction - and use maglev-like ways to accelerate and decelerate, which means as a bonus that you can recover a lot of energy when you decelerate), but we'll see soon enough.
As a bonus, here's something else Elon and SpaceX have been working on:
This is the highest altitude test of the 'grasshopper' rocket yet. It can take off and then land to be fully reused. This could reduce the cost of going to space by orders of magnitude since the cost of the fuel in a rocket is less than 1% of the total cost; kind of like how expensive flying would be if airplanes weren't fully reusable and you had to rebuild and refurbish them between each flight... Talk about waste and inefficiency.
Over the long, long term it will help humanity become multi-planetary, but over the shorter term, this could mean that for the same amount of money, a lot more scientific satellites could be launched. The impact of this on our understanding of Earth shouldn't be underestimated.