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.

Hyperloop could transport passengers from L.A. to San Francisco in 35 minutes.

Musk explains the science behind Hyperloop in a white paper. But How Stuff Works explains it even more intuitively: The $6 to $10 billion system uses magnets and fans to push passenger pods through giant pressurized tubes similar to the ones you used at bank drive throughs. The pods ride on a cushion of air similar to a puck gliding on an air hockey table. But instead of the air coming out of the bottom of the tube, it’s pumped from small holes in metal skis attached to the bottom of the pod. An electric compressor also pushes air from the front of the pod to the back. A pump removes most of the air in the tube to create a low-pressure environment that prevents friction between the pod and the tube. Magnets on the skis along with an electromagnetic pulse provide the initial push off, which would feel similar to an airplane takeoff. Musk has said once the pod departs “there’s no sense of speed” for the passenger. During the course of the trip, the pod’s speed is maintained by linear induction motors powered by magnets and conductors placed sporadically throughout the tube. Motors and batteries developed for the Tesla Model S electric car would be employed and the tubes will also be outfitted with solar arrays to power the whole system.

Energy cost per passenger for a journey between Los Angeles and San Francisco for various modes of transport. Source: SpaceX Hyperloop white paper.

Energy cost per passenger for a journey between Los Angeles and San Francisco for various modes of transport. Source: SpaceX Hyperloop white paper.

The tubes themselves will be elevated by reinforced concrete pylons that are 17 to 20 feet off the ground. The pylons would be placed approximately 100 feet apart.

“If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system,” Musk wrote in his white paper, “then the return should by rights be equally massive.”

In order to make that massive return attractive to investors, Musk opened up the development of the transportation system to the engineering community at large rather than have it developed by SpaceX and Tesla. Making the project open-sourced, prompted several investors to pump money in the project. In fact, Musk is not even involved with that company developing hardware for the transit system, Hyperloop Technologies.

Musk is betting that this open-sourced approach will be the key for Hyperloop to transform the 21st century like the locomotive transformed the 19th.

A five-mile Hyperloop test track will be constructed in Kings County, Calif.

Musk is also challenging students and designers to create passenger capsules for Hyperloop. The deadline to submit preliminary designs for the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition was Nov. 13. Entrants will present their designs to judges at Texas A&M in January. The winners will test their pods on a one-mile test track near SpaceX’s Hawthorne, Calif. headquarters next summer.

A five-mile test track is also being constructed in Kings County, Calif. People could start riding on the $150-million test track in 2018, putting mankind another step closer to the future of transportation.

What do you think about Hyperloop? Is it future or fantasy?

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

4 Comments

  1. chbechara

    Can’t wait to use this new technology!

    Like

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