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Elon Musk's Hyperloop: 30 Minutes In Windowless 800-MPH Pod?

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a man of many and advanced interests, and his latest notion--the Hyperloop rapid transit system revealed as a concept yesterday--fits into his vision of a very different future.

In a nutshell, the Hyperloop is a system in which people board pods inside an elevated metal tube on pillars that carry them from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about half an hour, at speeds up to 800 miles per hour.

It was Musk's reaction to the proposed California High-Speed Rail project that is to connect the same two cities, and ultimately run from San Diego to Sacramento, that got him thinking about a Hyperloop concept.

Expensive, slow 'high-speed' rail

That high-speed rail is a ground-based system that uses conventional fast-train technology. It's projected to cost $70 billion to complete by 2029, with the first section slated to begin construction within the year.

If the history of large infrastructure projects holds true, the final cost might exceed $100 billion.

Musk called the proposed California high-speed rail system "both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world."

His Hyperloop system, he says, could be built for a tiny fraction of that cost--$6 billion to $10 billion, he suggests.

In his preface, Musk wonders whether such a system could become "a fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats," cheaper than airplane travel for city pairs up to 900 miles (1500 km) 500 miles apart.

Freeway rights-of-way

For one thing, riding in a dedicated tube on pylons 50 to 100 yards apart, it could run along the right-of-way of existing freeways, both speeding construction and avoiding land acquisition.

That model has already been used, successfully, to build New York City's AirTrain from the Jamaica train station in Queens to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Its track runs in a trough constructed out of pre-cast concrete sections on concrete columns running down the narrow median of the crowded Van Wyck Expressway along the same route.

No plans to pursue

Much discussion of and debate over on the Hyperloop concept will now ensue, but Musk has no plans to pursue it at the moment.

He's putting the concept (designed the "Alpha" version) out there for others to critique, though if nothing's happened with it in several years, he said, he might return to it after he's a bit less busy.

“I wish I had not mentioned it,” he noted yesterday in a Business Week interview. “I still have to run SpaceX and Tesla, and it’s f*cking hard.”

Concept drawings for Elon Musk’s 800-mph Hyperloop

Concept drawings for Elon Musk’s 800-mph Hyperloop

Enlarge Photo

What's it like to ride in?

But one concern that arose for us yesterday is something we haven't yet seen addressed: What would the user experience be?

In the concept drawings and descriptions, two variants are proposed at two different scales.

The smaller of the two would have pods containing single seats within a narrow car something like a very narrow rail car.

The side of that flips up, very much like the "falcon doors" on the concept for the 2015 Tesla Model X electric crossover utilty vehicle.

Its entire nose is a large electric fan that would take in air at high speed to propel the vehicle-think of it roughly as a sort of large jet engine--as well as suspending it just above the surface of the tube on a cushion of air.


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Comments (56)
  1. This is a genius plan and I hope the state or some other government takes it seriously. But why no windows? Is he a Mac fan?
     
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  2. There wouldn't be much to look at if you're riding inside a tube. (It reminds me of my grandma who once said, while driving through a tunnel, "I just don't understand why they don't put windows in these things."
     
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  3. On second thought, they could incorporate windows in the tube and in the car, even if both had just a slit. It would be fun to see the landscape wiz by with breathtaking speed.
     
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  4. Is claustrophobia any more of an issue then say a fear of flying? It does not matter the mode of transportation, there will always be a segment of the population that will have an irrational fear of using it. Also, I imagine that a typical subway ride holds a special terror for some regardless of the windows in a subway car.
     
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  5. Most of the time the windows in the subway just reflect back at you anyway. It's only near the station that there's enough light to see anything.
     
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  6. Don't think it would be any worse than getting an MRI.
     
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  7. In the mid 1990's, something strikingly similar was proposed in Switzerland: a super-high-speed train/pod in a sealed tube, at the time nicknamed 'the aircraft without wings'.

    See http://www.swissmetro.ch/en

    Differences: the tube would have been underground, going down between stations so gravity helps accelerate and slow down, and kept at low pressure to dramatically reduce air resistance.

    Technological issues were pretty much solved a decade ago, but the question of funding still isn't. Government help would obviously be needed, and even in a country where politicians are much less divided and polarized than in the US, no elected official seems to want to touch this...
     
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  8. I think I know what you are talking about. A straight tube, empty as a vacuum, will take you anywhere on the planet in ~45 minutes without any friction. If someone dug a hole straight to Tokyo from New York, it would only take 45 minutes, if all the gasses were removed. You would also get free lighting from the magma in the Earth, as well as lots of iron and nickel from the core! The problem is you have to go in a straight underground line, remove all the gas, and use magnetics to float the vehicle. All that is very very expensive. It is impossible for long distance lines too. By the time technology would allow you to use it from LA to NY, we would have better transportation options.

    It is a really neat idea though.
     
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  9. Fascinating concept. Sounds pretty claustrophobic but maybe people could put on special TV glasses that project images of wide open fields or something;). Maybe not a particularly pleasant experience for some but at 600MPh one would never have to spend too much time in these, which also solves the bathroom issue.

    The main problem I can think of is the impact of this system on the landscape. Mounted on pylons it's like a continuous visual barrier snaking through the landscape like the Chinese wall. That's bound to trigger people's NIMBY reflexes.
     
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  10. Have you seen the much of the stretch between SF and LA along the I-5? It is NOT going to be a problem with the so called "landscape".
     
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  11. Don't underestimate those NIMBY relexes;). Also I was thinking a bit broader than just the SF-LA stretch.
     
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  12. True, but most NIMBYs don't live in the "central valley" of CA (mostly Marin county). But I agree with your point.
     
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  13. The lack of a bathroom would be a problem… Some people have to go a lot. But I think this would be best built in Asia, where they are serious about building new infrastructure. I couldn't imagine the US switching when they have so many crazy regulations, laws, and corrupt politicians pushing for high speed rail.
     
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  14. Oh come on, half an hour is nothing. And if you really want windows, they could always project "the view" on the inside of the walls.
     
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  15. I not really sure how Elon Musk got in the loop here with the hyperloop since ET3 is already working on their patented design. ET3 also plans on making a 10 mile test model. Is Elon somehow connected with ET3, or does he simply want to promote the concept ET3 already has.
     
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  16. He mentions ET3 in his article, Elon, I mean.
     
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  17. Hyperloop is a different technology than ET3. HL is not a vacuum, just close enough so modern air pumps can keep it up efficiently. Plus HL uses an "air bearing" or air ski, not ET3's mag lev. Plus the main propulsive element in HL is rail gun, every so often, whereas ET3 is constant accel to halfway point, then constant decel after. So ET3 theoretically faster, and the fastest that is theoretically, physiologically possible, but Elon points out, impractical, or it would've been done.
     
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  18. Sounds cool, if every seat back has a monitor with entertainment or a view out the front via a camera that could alleviate fear.
     
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  19. Hey John,

    According to this Forbes artclie he might get things going himself:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/hannahelliott/2013/08/12/latest-update-elon-musk-will-start-the-hyperloop-himself/

    - Musk will build a demonstration prototype himself. “I think it might help if I built a demonstration article. I think I probably will do that, actually. I’ve sort of come around in my thinking on that part.”

    FYI.
     
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  20. Got stuck between stations on a packed MARTA train in Atlanta after a concert one time--it was hot and even though we had windows there was a woman there who started freaking out and needed air. We all contorted ourselves so she could stand next to the door and "get some air" through the cracks. The pod...well, if it ever suddenly stops mid-way between destinations and people can't see out...you could have a real problem.

    However, it's still a brilliant idea and if you're the kind of person that's okay in an elevator you should be okay in this thing.
     
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  21. I have ridden on the MARTA trains. You can't compare that to the Hyperloop... :)

    As far as the "freaking out" goes, people get stuck on airplanes all the time. Some of the "commuter" planes are way smaller than the MARTA trains...
     
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  22. True--and people normally learn to either deal with confined quarters with lots of people or to simply avoid them if their tolerance level isn't good. I suspect the hyperloop would definitely be a no-no for a certain percentage of people. I personally dislike being in enclosed places (especially packed airplanes!) but it looks as if the current design of the hyperloop cabin has generous spacing and nice seats. Let's hope that should it be made it will continue to have those luxurious amounts of space for each passenger.

    Good airflow within the cabin is also key--the MARTA train had lost power and airflow stopped! All we had were emergency lights for 20 minutes. We were all drenched in sweat within a few minutes. Not nice.
     
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  23. Apparently Musk appropriated this idea from Frankel, professor emeritus of MIT, who claimed this morning that he had published his idea years ago. And company ET3 is currently working on a very similar concept of their own. Problems noted by one science website are many :at 700 MPH the tube has to be VERY straight and
    level and have curves of large radius. Solar power seems to make little sense for this application. Another issue is mechanical failure of either the air cushion or the "exhausting fan."
    Also the issue of evacuation from a closed tube within a vacuum.
    And my objection : this is practically a dream come true for terrorists - the entire system is vulnerable to nothing more
    sophisticated than a WWII rocket grenade
     
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  24. @ Kent Beuchert

    Yep, veeeeery straight. But even with the depressing straightness of i5, Elon talks about occasionally slowing down for turns and speeding back up (the Grapevine). It's accounted for in his calculations.

    No, solar is perfect. Why waste a 450mi roof?

    Failure = decel. No prob.

    Vacuum evacuation: Open the tube, even a little, and it's not a vacuum any more REAL QUICK. System will easily detect catastrophic failure and stop everything.

    Terror: Why is HL any more or less vulnerable to the religious right than high speed rail? Or any other form of transportation. Best defense is a good offense: bone up on & spread the good word on separation of church and state.
     
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  25. Windows are irrelevant at 800 mph. Airplanes have windows but they too are useless during night fly, for example. All the prospect you may need on location at a given time you can have with a computer screen attached to your seat or the front seat. This monitor may display current G.P.S. info as well as all kinds of available media.
     
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  26. Windows are a psychological necessity for some and in the event your cabin loses power you have no computer screen running on your seat. Let's see--dark, emergency lights only, little to no airflow, no windows. Not a pleasant thought. Maybe it wouldn't happen, but it's something to think about.
     
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  27. @Adalberto Burke: I would tend to agree with you. Windows would be irrelevent. Cameras on the front might be more practical. What would you see out a window in the pod going 600-800 mph? A Blur???
     
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  28. Hyperloop won't be as cheap as Elon "claims" if he has to deal with the "land issues" that hi-speed train is dealing with in CA.

    Also, every county in-route will want a station and a "piece" of the "pie". Also, he has to figure out how it will get across the bay without incurring the amount of cost the Bay Bridge expansion is costing CA...
     
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  29. It's on pylons so its actual land use is minimal. It's an intercity system so there will be no further stops period.
     
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  30. That is okay to a point. If you want to buy anything, doesn't matter what, needs a lot of "permits" and "studies" in CA. So, Elon will find out once he starts the construction.
     
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  31. Also, how much will the ticket cost. Currently an hour flight between SFO and LAX is less than $160 and sometimes as low as $100. Sure, you have to go through "security" and waste a litte time on boarding and getting to the airport. But I don't think the hyperloop will have less so called "security" and you would still need a car when you get to your destination just like the plane.


    Another curious point, if airlines sometimes makes more money by flying "packages" around instead of passengers, then why don't we just build "hyperloops" all over the country to ship products instead of using large diesel powered trucks? I am sure a hyperloop between NYC and LA would be very useful to transport packages...

    Why isn't Fedex/UPS onboard?
     
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  32. Just imagine getting a "half day" delivery service between NY and LA for your urgent packages...

    Costco and some Library used to use the vaccume/air system to deliver reciepes and books.
     
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  33. Just ran across this article touting $20 one way tickets.
    http://www.govtech.com/state/Could-Elon-Musks-Hyperloop-Derail-High-Speed-Rail.html
     
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  34. $20 for 30 mins ride? Hard to believe. But if it is, maybe people will commute from LA to SF for work...
     
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  35. Why not cite Elon's actual published material on SpaceX and Tesla Motors? It's on his Twitter feed, too.
     
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  36. @Bryan: There's a link at the end of the article to both his Tesla blog post and the downloadable PDF.
     
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  37. Assuming full ridership for 20 years, $20 per ticket covers build & operating costs. Average actual ticket cost around $105. Not sure why the big disparity.
     
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  38. The $105 I see in the report refers to the proposed high speed rail, not Hyperloop.
     
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  39. You're right, thanks. I still think it's odd to suggest evidence for a ticket price by using a secondary source (govtech.com) rather than the primary source. Especially since the govtech author either didn't read the proposal or didn't understand it (e.g. his opening sentence is about using HL for international travel when it's only meant for regional). Clearly GCR authors and readers understand the primary source better than he.
     
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  40. @Bryan the only reason I used a secondary source was because I happened to run across it and I knew someone had asked about ticket prices. I was simply offering an answer to a question, not doing in depth research. Regardless, I think it's way too early in the process to guess at ticket prices. Nothing ever stays on budget and who knows what issues might come up that effect ticket prices.
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  41. You know, I just can't see this EVER happening for a NUMBER of reasons.

    First, we don't have the political will--or finances--to even BUILD this nation-wide.

    Second, building this as an elevated system along interstate highways to avoid right-of-way and land issues doesn't necessarily mean it'll be hassle free. Consider that Interstates run through major cities... and EVERY city will want a Hyperloop stop/station in consideration for the highway traffic jams during its construction. (Goodbye "non-stop 30-minute transcontinental trips.") AND, it'll still be an eye-sore. (Ever see NYC AirTrain?)

    Third: Terrorism. One big explosion to "break" the Hyperloop's vacuum tube and what happens to the pods traveling at such high speeds?
     
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  42. BTW: I mis-posted. There's no way Hyperloop will go transcontinental in 30 minutes. Not at 800 MPH. Sorry, I mis-understood the "30 Minutes In Windowless 800-MPH Pod" part of the headline.

    As I see it, Hyperloop COULD be an alternative for REGIONAL travel--NYC to Chicago, say.

    But I still see this as a boondoggle of an idea. Mainly because I really think we lack the political will, finances and "vision" to build it.

    That, and I think we'd really have to consider the terrorism/security issue.
     
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  43. Terrorism is a way overblown threat that should not scare us into not doing a project. We still have airplanes so it wouldnt ruin the Hyperloop either.
     
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  44. "Boondoggle" would mean it can't physically work, and that Elon knows it. But it can, and you agreed, short of political will.
     
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  45. You are right that our country is not as willing to take risks and "forge ahead" as it has been in the past but that doesn't mean that this can't get done. California is already thinking of building a much more expensive high-speed rail train and if the hyperloop idea is sound then it will be far less expensive and faster as well. As far as terrorism--why let a potential threat stop us from going forward? We currently have nuclear facilities, airlines, railways, even high rises that face these threats but life still goes on.

    The hyperloop makes sense for highly traveled regional corridors. The northeast should also look into it (say NY to DC).
     
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  46. Really best to have the stations near major airports to couple the transportation modes. So, no downdown routes.

    I agree we have no political will for anything good.

    You have announced the victory of the terrorists, because we will not do what we should for fear that the terrorists will attack us. They win, we lose. Just as they planned.
     
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  47. it could have camras that show the outside
     
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  48. this concept for packages may make more sense - avoid all 'safety' issues, and reduce trucking emissions etc...

    also, shoot me down for asking, but would it work to run this thing through the ocean instead? (i hear cal has earthquake issues / land movements to deal with...)
     
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  49. what i mean to say is, an air tube under / on the water
     
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  50. Earthquakes happen underwater too, and they crate tsunamis sometimes. The pylons could survive most earthquakes, and if one was big enough to destroy it there, I couldn't imagine it surviving in the ocean, where it has all the salt water pushing on it and has to be much more ridged to survive the pressure of that water. But I'm not an engineer (yet).
     
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  51. Call me crazy, but I decided not to comment until I had read all 57 pages of Elon's proposal. Based on some of the comments here, others could benefit from this view. I think the proposal is brilliant. Maglev is cool, but the economics of a partial tube vacuum and air bearings are compelling - he sold me. The use of linear accelerators, solar power and battery storage is very clever. As for this not being an original idea, Apple didn't invent the tablet, Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile and Elon didn't invent the electric car either, but they got the ideas to actually work. The hyper loop idea should be VERY thoroughly explored before we go too far down the hi-speed rail path.
     
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  52. 1) For cities up to 900mi apart, not 500. 2) pylons are 100ft apart, not 50-100yds. 3) Those are pairs of seats, not singles. 4) The doors are gull-wing, not falcon since there is only 1 hinge & not 2. 4) The fan/air compressor/jet at the nose's main job is to assist the "air bearings" & propulsion is minimal/secondary. The main propulsive element is electric induction strips along some of the tube--lots at the beginning, end, slows/speed ups for corners, & just every so often to make up for the bit of drag at top speed.
     
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  53. I'm sorry, also, THE main purpose of e fan/air compressor/jet is to relieve the build up of extreme high pressure in front of the capsule as it approaches top/cruising speed of 760mph.
     
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  54. @Bryan: Ah, you're right. I thought Musk had written 900 km, which translates to about 500 miles. My mistake. I've fixed the article.
     
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  55. why not instead of pushing air under the cars,have crossover pipes between the tubes and fast acting valves with fans behind them, the crossovers will let you double the area of the tube while not needing as much car complexity.
     
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  56. I spend 30 minutes in the downstairs loo (in the basement - so no windows) occasionally just reading the paper, so I, for one, would not be in the least bit bothered. As for 'lateral movements', the less said about those, the better!

    I suppose windows could be simulated by thin tellys showing what's going on outside - a bit pointless at night... pointless full stop really!

    There are always people who won't want to do this or that due to their silly phobias - fine, use some other means of transport but Mr Musk's plan makes a great deal of sense to me even in its early stages.
     
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