Elon Musk unveils Hyperloop, a futuristic, solar-powered supersonic pod-train

Elon Musk hyperloop meme
CC BY 2.0 Flickr

Will the real Tony Stark please stand up?

As promised, Elon Musk has published details of what he calls the 'Hyperloop' (without patents, under an open source license). The plans can be found in a 57 page PDF file that goes into quite a lot of detail. It really shows that Musk is not just a business person, but is also the "chief product architect" at both Tesla and SpaceX, immersing himself deeply into the technical side of things. With this, he just got closer to outdoing Tony Stark...

Hyperloop Elon MuskHyperloop Elon Musk/Public Domain

In a blog post introducing the project, Musk writes:

When the California “high speed” rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. 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? Note, I am hedging my statement slightly by saying “one of”. The head of the California high speed rail project called me to complain that it wasn’t the very slowest bullet train nor the very most expensive per mile.

The underlying motive for a statewide mass transit system is a good one. It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving. The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?

Hyperloop Elon MuskHyperloop Elon Musk/Public Domain

To come up with a solution, he started with these design criteria:

If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive. Compared to the alternatives, it should ideally be:

  • Safer
  • Faster
  • Lower cost
  • More convenient
  • Immune to weather
  • Sustainably self-powering
  • Resistant to Earthquakes
  • Not disruptive to those along the route

That's how the Hyperloop idea was born: a solar-powered, city-to-city elevated transit system that can move people (and cars, in the larger version) from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.

Businessweek writes:

Inside the tubes, the pods would be mounted on thin skis made out of inconel, a trusted alloy of SpaceX that can withstand high pressure and heat. Air gets pumped through little holes in the skis to make an air cushion, Musk says. The front of the pod would have a pair of air jet inlets—sort of like the Concorde. An electric turbo compressor would compress the air from the nose and route it to the skis and to the cabin. Magnets on the skis, plus an electromagnetic pulse, would give the pod its initial thrust; reboosting motors along the route would keep the pod moving. And: no sonic boom. With warm air inside the tubes and high tailwinds, the pods could travel at high speeds without crossing the sound barrier. “The pod can go just below the speed of sound relative to the air,” Musk says.

Hyperloop Elon MuskHyperloop Elon Musk/Public Domain

It'll take me a bit of time to wrap my head around the 57 pages that Musk has published, so I don't have much more for you right now (more later), but if you want to see for yourself, here's the PDF.

I bet that most objections against the design are already addressed in there (I've seen a few).

Hyperloop Elon MuskHyperloop Elon Musk/Public Domain

Note the solar panels. Because it's in a controlled environment, there's little friction and so it doesn't take as much energy to power the Hyperloop as would a plane or train going at similar speeds.

Hyperloop Elon MuskHyperloop Elon Musk/Public Domain

Elon Musk hyperloop meme© Flickr

Why isn't he building it himself? He probably could, but as he says: “I wish I had not mentioned it,” he says. “I still have to run SpaceX and Tesla, and it’s f*cking hard.”

Via Elon Musk

See also: 2014 BMW i3 electric car makes its worldwide debut!

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