Elon Musk's 'Hyperloop': More Details Revealed

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Entrepreneur Elon Musk revealed details today on a blog about his concept for a high-speed transportation system he calls the Hyperloop. After tweeting that he’d pulled an all-nighter preparing for the announcement, Musk told Businessweek that the design could transport people as well as cars inside aluminum pods that move up to 800 miles per hour through a tube. The tubes would be mounted on columns 50 to 100 yards apart, not interfering with land needs because it would essentially follow major highways, such as I-5 in California.

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Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX as well as chairman of solar power provider SolarCity, first talked about Hyperloop last summer in a call with PandoDaily. He described the transportation mode as “a cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table.”

We knew only snippets until today, namely that Musk thought his concept could take people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about half an hour, that it would be faster and cheaper than a bullet train, that it would operate unscheduled, that weather wouldn’t affect the system and that it couldn’t crash.

Businessweek’s Ashlee Vance reported the Hyperloop details today, revealing that the aluminum tubes would follow I-75 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. “The pods would be mounted on thin skis made out of inconel, a trusted alloy of SpaceX that can withstand high pressure and heat,” Vance wrote. Air would get pumped through tiny holes in the inconel skis to create an air cushion, and it would get there via an electric turbo compressor. An electromagnetic pulse would each pod an initial thrust.

Musk told Vance that the Hyperloop was designed to link densely populated cities less than 1,000 miles apart. “It makes sense for things like L.A. to San Francisco, New York to D.C., New York to Boston,” Musk said. “Over 1,000 miles, the tube cost starts to become prohibitive, and you don’t want tubes every which way. You don’t want to live in Tube Land.”

As for how such a system will actually be built, Musk has been hesitant to toss his own hat into the ring, calling the Hyperloop something he’s putting out there as an open-source design. Last week during a Tesla Motors call with investors he said, “I think I shot myself in the foot by ever mentioning the Hyperloop. I’m too strung out.”

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For now, Hyperloop is going to remain an idea awaiting a prototype built by other people. All the hype over it reminded me of the anticipation Dean Kamen stoked ahead of his Segway announcement more than a decade ago. The transportation revolution of the future probably won’t involve a press conference. But I’m sure it will be an interesting ride. Maybe even in pods.

Credit: Elon Musk, Hyperloop PDF