Last week Elon Musk declared his intentions to build a Hyperloop test track in Texas. The internet dutifully exploded. We decided, albeit a few days late, to take a look at Musk and his new fangled method of public transport.
First things first, though, who is Elon Musk?
Elon Musk is a Canadian-American engineer and entrepreneur. He founded SpaceX and co-founded PayPal and Tesla Motors. Simply put, there are few people in the world in a better position to enact change than he.
Although Musk is spearheading the project, the project is officially backed by SpaceX, Tesla and PayPal. All are revolutionary companies in their own right but none are involved in public transport. Let’s have a look at what they do.
SpaceX is a private space transport company: they design, manufacture and launch advanced rockets. They currently supply the ISS and transport U.S. crews to and from
Not content with exploring the final frontier, SpaceX has turned one eye towards the ground.
“Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport,” reads the Tesla’s website. Despite overwhelming opposition from the automotive lobby, no organisation has advanced the development and popularisation of electric cars to the extent of Tesla.
Not content with revolutionising the workings of the motorcar, Tesla has turned one eye towards mass transport.
PayPal changed the way we pay online. Instead of entering specific card details, PayPal acts as a digital wallet and collects all your payment options into one account.
And how is PayPal related to futuristic mass transport? We’re not too sure. The leading theory is that they are still hurting from their breakup with eBay and are looking for some cool new friends to hang around with.
Enough history, let’s talk about the project.
The Hyperloop is a transport system put forward by Musk himself. It’s basically a hugely long tube along which passengers (in capsules) are fired. Think pressurised canister mail systems scaled up.
A Hyperloop, however, has one significant difference to a normal mail system: a Hyperloop’s tube has almost all the air sucked out. This near-vacuum reduces the air resistance to almost nothing and lets capsules reach speeds that brush the sound barrier.
Musk originally proposed the Hyperloop running between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This 570 km journey would take around 35 minutes.
Tesla, SpaceX and PayPal are all based in California. The original Hyperloop envisioned a route between two Californian cities. So why build a prototype in Texas?
Texas bans the sale of Tesla cars through direct retail outlets. Why do they do that? Presumably because traditional car manufacturers have incredibly powerful lobbyists. Musk, understandably, doesn’t particularly like laws that brazenly penalise companies.
Some think that he has proposed building a prototype Hyperloop in Texas as an incentive to legislators to review the ban.
An Already-Crowded Marketplace
With such a futuristic idea, Musk can’t already have competition can he? Unfortunately, he can and does. A crowdfunded venture from California-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) was launched last year with the goal of developing Musk’s idea independently of his project.
In an article in Wired, it emerged that the project currently has 100 engineers scattered across the U.S. who are working in exchange for stock option. HTT estimates their technical feasibility study will be completed this year.
Is There a Timescale?
It may be some time before you can fly along the ground in a pressurised capsule at speeds of 1,220 km/h. HTT haven’t even finished their study into whether it could work. Likewise, Musk is only proposing a test track.
Unfortunately, we’re still some ways away from a functional Hyperloop network.
Don’t be too disheartened, though. HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn claims a final product “can be built within the decade.” We’ll be waiting, Ahlborn.
Also, can we dibs first shot?
Would you ever entrust your life to a pressurised cigar tube? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #WouldYouHyperloop.