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South African-born Elon Musk designs Hyperloop transport system

August 13, 2013 • Top Stories

South African-born tech entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled the blueprint for his Hyperloop rapid transportation system today, giving technology enthusiasts a glimpse of what could be possible in the future.

Elon Musk's detailed plan of the Hyperloop (image: Elon Musk)

Elon Musk’s detailed plan of the Hyperloop (Image source: Elon Musk)

The hypothetical mode of high-speed transportation will make use of  a low pressure system and capsules inside a vacuum tube. “The capsules are supported on a cushion of air, featuring pressurized air and aerodynamic lift. The capsules are accelerated via a magnetic linear accelerator affixed at various stations on the low pressure tube with rotors contained in each capsule,” Musk explained during the unveiling of the alpha plans.

“How would you like something that can never crash, is immune to weather, it goes 3 or 4 times faster than the bullet train, it goes about an average speed of twice what an aircraft would do? You would go from downtown LA to downtown San Francisco in under 30 minutes. And it would cost you much less than an air ticket or car, much less than any other mode of transport, because the fundamental energy cost is so much lower,” Musk said in an interview with PandoDaily.

In terms of a power source that would propel the system, Musk added that the system could be made to be self-powered, but will also function when solar panels are connect to it. “And I think we could actually make it self-powering if you put solar panels on it, you generate more power than you would consume in the system. There’s a way to store the power so it would run 24/7 without using batteries,” he continued.

The Hyperloop concept

Musk believes it would absolutely be possible to construct the system – at a fraction of the cost of constructing a new rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Hyperlink, according to Musk, should only require $6-billion to build, while the proposed California High-Speed Rail system is estimated to cost around $68-billion to construct – which will serve San Francisco to Los Angeles via Central Valley and Palmdale.

While the concept of a Hyperloop has been around for a number of decades, the idea of the came to Musk when he heard plans were being formulated for a California High-Speed Rail network, which he described as disappointing. “I originally started thinking about it (Hyperloop) when I read about California’s high-speed rail project which was somewhat disappointing.”

“It’s actually worse than taking the plane. I get a little sad when things are not getting better in the future. Another example would be like the Concorde being retired and the fact there is no supersonic passenger transport. I think that is sad. You want the future to be better than the past, or at least I do.”

But the biggest drawback to Musk’s Hyperloop, is that he has no intention to actually get involved and build it. “I think I kind of shot myself in the foot by ever mentioning the Hyperloop, because I’m too strung out. Obviously I have to focus on core Tesla business and on SpaceX business, and that’s more than enough,” he said in a Tesla earnings call last week.

“I don’t have any plans to execute it because I have to remain focused on SpaceX and Tesla. But I did commit to publishing a design, and (I will) provide quite a detailed design,” he added.

After the reveal of the design, Musk is looking for feedback on the Hyperloop to “see if people can find ways to improve it”.

In essence, Musk is releasing the Hyperloop design into the public domain as “kind of an open source design”, and any interested party will be able to peruse the details for possible future construction.

Although Musk has no intention of building the 1,102 km/h transportation system himself, he might step in if the project stagnates. “If nothing happens for a few years with that, maybe it could make sense to make the Hyperloop happen with Tesla involvement. But it is extremely speculative,” he added.

But Musk is not the one interested in vacuum tube transportation. Colorado-based company ET3 is currently working on similar technology, which it describes as “Space Travel on Earth” on their website.

The company speculates that their Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) network will be able to ferry “90% of people and goods by the year 2030.”

ET3’s system will make use of magnetic levitation capsules that operate in two-way networks of 5-feet diameter tubes. “Air is permanently removed from the sealed tubes to eliminate drag force, and the pressurized capsules are accelerated by linear electric motors; then they merge into the flow of capsules where they coast using little if any additional power,” they explained.

The system will be able to travel 643.738km/h on domestic trips, while ET3 speculates that it will be able to go 10-times faster for international travel. In terms of a roadmap for future development, the company is planning to showcase a 3-mile demo at 600km/h sometime next year, with a 300-mile system connecting major cities in US in the next 5 years.

Their ultimate goal is to have a global ET3 network displacing up to 90% of the global transportation by the year 2030.

The detailed plan of Musk’s Hyperloop can be found here.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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