As if Elon Musk’s ongoing initiatives for manned Mars exploration and high-speed suborbital travel weren’t challenging enough, the PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX founder recently declared his intention to become involved in the construction of a “Hyperloop,” a proposed mode of passenger/freight transportation that had first been described in an open-source design released by a joint team from Tesla and SpaceX in August 2014. This long-distance, high-speed transportation system would send pressurized pods through near-vacuum tubes at speeds approaching that of sound.
In the 2014, 57-page, open-source white paper, the “Hyperloop Alpha” design was described as a system whereby pods would accelerate to cruising speed using a linear electric motor and glide above their track on air bearings through tubes above ground on columns or below ground in tunnels to avoid the dangers of at-grade crossings. An ideal Hyperloop system would be more energy-efficient, quiet, and autonomous than existing modes of mass transit. Musk invited feedback to “see if the people can find ways to improve it.” By releasing the Hyperloop Alpha as an open-source design, Musk encouraged the creation of firms such as Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Transpod, and Arrivo; in 2015, he announced the construction of a one-mile Hyperloop tunnel at SpaceX’s facilities in Hawthorne, CA to be used by such third-party firms for a SpaceX-sponsored Hyperloop competition.
Earlier this year, Musk announced that his infrastructure and tunneling company, the Boring Company, had received “verbal government agreement to dig a Hyperloop tunnel between New York and Washington” (when Wired asked Musk via Twitter who might build the Hyperloop that would fill that tunnel, he replied, “the Boring Company”) (8/8/17). The phrase “verbal government agreement” might be a bit strong (according to the Guardian, “A White House spokesperson confirmed that officials had had ‘promising conversations’ with Musk and executives from the Boring Company, adding that the White House is ‘committed to transformative infrastructure projects, and believes our greatest solutions have often come from the ingenuity and drive of the private sector’”). Given the immense regulatory, bureaucratic, and engineering challenges in such an ambitious infrastructure undertaking as the Hyperloop, having Musk and the Boring Company lead the way might speed the validation of this technology to the benefit of all involved firms, and the public as well.
Image courtesy of RichMacf