Musk’s Hyperloop inches closer to the future

With holiday travel fast approaching we have transportation on our minds. Check out Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, which could someday transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco at supersonic speeds. Stay tuned for future posts on innovation in airports, as well as the passenger-train project All Aboard Florida.

The CEO of electric carmaker Tesla and the rocket-building company SpaceX, Elon Musk, is now turning his attention to a supersonic transportation system called Hyperloop.

The CEO of electric carmaker Tesla and the rocket-building company SpaceX, Elon Musk is now turning his attention to a supersonic transportation system called Hyperloop.

When you inevitably curse your decision to drive, fly or take the train to grandma’s this Thanksgiving, take solace that some of the country’s smartest engineers are working on a better way to get there: Visionary billionaire Elon Musk’s supersonic ground transportation system. Like something out of a Jules Verne novel, Hyperloop pods travel through a steel tube at speeds of more than 750 miles per hour. But passengers being rocketed through the California countryside would feel no sensation of speed. The above-ground transit system is incredibly faster than the one-and-a-half-hour flight and nearly six-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The 35-minute Hyperloop trip would make it possible to live in San Francisco and commute to L.A.

Hyperloop would travel more than two times faster than the world’s fastest train, Japan’s new maglev bullet train, which currently travels at speeds up to 366 mph. 

Best of all, Hyperloop is estimated to only cost $20 one way. Plus, it would be quieter and more environmentally friendly than existing modes of transit.

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Smart Cities: Citizen involvement, security and the future

This is the third post in our series on Smart Cities and focuses on the Smart Cities of the future. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. 

So, what will Smart Cities of the future look like? Will we see data-driven robots constructing buildings that tower miles into the sky? Or GPS-driven cars transporting passengers to their destinations and then automatically driving themselves home to recharge? Will video billboards sell products to pedestrians using personalized sales pitches based on individual shopping history data?

Any of these scenarios are possible, but most experts agree that an era of enhanced city connectedness, communication and data sharing with citizens is inevitable. Rick Robinson, member of IBM’s “Smarter Cities” initiative, told BBC News that “the behavior of a city is about the behavior of its citizens. Unless systems can become the fabric of their lives, nothing is going to change.”

But while there are interesting “pockets of smartness” happening in cities throughout the world, fully-integrated Smart Cities are not yet within our grasp. The problem is that cities are complex entities that are often inefficient because systems are not interconnected and have no way to “talk” to one another.

And then there is the elephant in the room whenever data collection is mentioned — privacy. As quoted in The Guardian, Dan Hill of Future Cities Catapult says, “A vast network of sensors amounting to millions of electronic ears, eyes and noses … potentially enable the future city to be a vast arena of perfect and permanent surveillance by whomever has access to the data feeds.”

And where there are concerns about data collection privacy, there are even bigger apprehensions about cyberattacks. As reported in the New Scientist, US Army Cyber Institute director Greg Conti says that cities vary widely in terms of how prepared they are for possible attacks because unlike companies that have unified leadership and policies, cities are fractured into public and private silos, making them harder to defend themselves. According to the article, “Hackers can target multiple layers, from breaking into officials’ email accounts to tapping wires underneath drain covers in the street to targeting your home.”

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World Building of the Year integrates urban and natural environments

Seamlessly integrating urbanity with natural vegetation, the freshly anointed World Building of the Year 2015 could forever change the way we design and build buildings. The Interlace (pictured above), just beat 338 other entries to take top prize at the annual World Architecture Festival in Singapore.

Check out our WAF picks from when the finalists were first announced. 

Designed by German architecture firms OMA and Buro Ole Scheeren to fly in the face of vertical apartment tower construction, The Interlace features 31 apartment blocks stacked across one another at various angles to form a massive hexagonal-shaped complex in the southern part of Singapore. The mega-complex’s innovative design maximizes light and air flow to each of the 1,040 units. Featuring eight distinct courtyards as well as roof gardens, the building’s open layout increases social interaction among tenants.

“It gives you a horizontal city with the interleaving of space and vegetation,” Professor Sir Peter Cook, who was among the competition judges told CNN“It’s a game-changer…something you’ll remember and go, that was when somebody first did that thing, of these blocks in the sky, with gardens on them.”


The property’s website notes that the building’s design also incorporates sustainable features, “through careful environmental analysis of sun, wind and micro-climate conditions on site and the integration of low-impact passive energy strategies. Water bodies have been strategically placed within wind corridors as a means of allowing evaporative cooling to happen along the wind paths, reducing local air temperatures and improving thermal comfort in outdoor recreation space.”

Click here to see the overall winners from the three-day festival and compare them to our picks. Let us know your favorites in the comments section below. 

This post was written by Justin Rice. If you have questions, Justin can be reached at or follow him on Twitter at @JustinAlanRice.

Throwback Thursday

Whether it’s sharing your all-time favorite Atari video game or a photo of your sister’s second birthday party, Thursdays have given us all the opportunity to proudly throw it back. So in honor of Throwback Thursdays, we will occasionally post about antiquated, and sometimes comical, construction methods that have given way to some of the biggest innovations in our industry. Please share your Throwback Thursday ideas in the comment section at the bottom of this post! 

Surveying and laying out a job site is a critical first step in making sure a building’s starting point and location on a block is correct before construction begins. In short, it’s how builders ensure that what is drawn is actually built. Thankfully, the instruments to accomplish this once tedious, inefficient and inaccurate task have evolved over the past 50 years. Surveying teams that literally chalked off measurements calculated by hand can now use GPS coordinates taken by robotic instruments to perform the same task much more efficiently.

The throwback:

A North Carolina State University engineering student in the 1950s. Photo provided by North Carolina State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center.

In the 1960s surveying crews on construction sites used two-dimensional architectural drawings to determine the “control lines,” which serve as the benchmark coordinates for all the trades to base their respective layouts off of. The lines themselves were measured by hand and marked with temporary markers, such as wooden stakes or chalk, making for a long and exhausting process that was prone to human error. Back then, it might have taken a three or four-man crew two days to layout a single floor.

But it might have taken just as long to do the math to verify that the distances, angles and heights recorded by the instrument were correct. That’s right, math. Specifically, trigonometry and calculus were crucial to double-checking surveying work back then.

Taken in 1988, this photo features an instrument known as a theodolite. The user had to collect the measurement data from the instrument and calculate the measurements using either a field book or an antiquated data collector. Photo courtesy of

Surveying undeveloped land was equally arduous work back in the day. Justin Farrow, who runs a global network of geospatial professionals called Land Surveyors United, said it wasn’t uncommon for a five-man crew to take more than a week to survey land slotted for a subdivision. Better equipment in the 90s gave way to three-man crews: One guy behind “the gun,” another holding “the rod,” and a third wielding a machete. Yes, a machete. The guy with the gun, or an electronic optical instrument, would stand at the start of a line while another man marked the end of a line with a rod. The rod had a prism attached to the top that provided a target for the gun to take an accurate measurement. The third man used the machete to clear a path so nothing would interfere with the gun’s transmissions.

“A lot of times you would go into the bush to cut these angles, because you can’t shoot through the woods without having a clear-cut angle,” Farrow said. “You mess up one angle and you put everyone in their neighbor’s yard.”

The innovation:

Today, robotic total stations that can aim themselves automatically and be controlled remotely by a single person with a programmable handheld device have replaced these old school inefficiencies. “With modern survey technology, you’re easily saving at least a couple of thousand manhours on a project,” Suffolk Senior Superintendent Mike Moore told us.

Armed with GPS, robotic total stations are much more accurate than the old way of surveying. They use satellites to ping location points to the device through what’s known as an electronic theodolite. Integrated with an electronic distance meter, or EDM, the theodolite reads slope distances from the instrument to a designated point on the construction site.

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A construction worker using a Topcon robotic total station. Photo courtesy of Topcon.

Companies such as Trimble and Topcon are on the forefront of this constantly evolving technology, and they look at it beyond just the initial site survey process. That means increasing compatibility with 3D drawings and virtual models. Robotic total stations allow project teams to use live drawings to identify control lines and make measurements so survey points are automatically built into the digital models.

“The goal is to eliminate the defined divisions between design, build and operate,” Bill Stettner of Building Point Florida, a service provider for Trimble, told us.

Without these modern total stations builders could never construct buildings that reflect the design so closely. And they’d have to sharpen their math skills too.

This post was written by Suffolk Southeast’s Director of Marketing Rachel Elliot with input from Northeast Superintendent Mike Moore. If you have questions, Rachel can be reached at or follow her on Twitter at @Rachel4780.