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October 3, 2013
Forget about trains, planes or automobiles. If Elon Musk’s idea comes to fruition, you could travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 30 minutes, all thanks to the Hyperloop, a $6 billion high-speed transport system that would move people in pods through tubes at speeds up to 760 mph.
Musk, CEO for Tesla Motors and SpaceX, posted his proposal in August on Tesla’s blog. Since then, the idea has gone viral.
“The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart,” Musk writes in his 58-page proposal. He suggests mounting an electric compressor fan on the nose of the pod that actively transfers high-pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel. “This is like having a pump in the head of the syringe actively relieving pressure,” he writes, noting it would also simultaneously solve another problem — how to create a low-friction suspension system when traveling at more than 700 mph.
“Wheels don’t work very well at that sort of speed, but a cushion of air does,” Musk writes. “Air bearings, which use the same basic principle as an air hockey table, have been demonstrated to work at speeds of Mach 1.1 with very low friction.”
CNN reported that Musk envisions the tube itself being built above ground, roughly following California's Interstate 5 highway. Sealed capsules carrying 28 passengers each would leave from stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco up to every 30 seconds during peak hours.
“As gizmology goes, Musk has put forth a plausible idea that doesn’t require yet-to-be-developed technologies like transporter beams,” The New Yorker reported on its blog. “Essentially, Musk wants to erect a really long pneumatic tube of the kind that used to shoot mail around office buildings, and then deploy air to float the freight instead of pushing it.”
“It’s like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland,” Musk told Business Week. “It would have less lateral acceleration—which is what tends to make people feel motion sick—than a subway ride, as the pod banks against the tube like an airplane. Unlike an airplane, it is not subject to turbulence, so there are no sudden movements. It would feel super smooth.”
While a working version of the Hyperloop is decades away, five designers at WhiteClouds used three 3D printers to create the 3D model of the system within 24 hours.
Although Musk says he is not interested in working on the Hyperloop now, he is encouraging other entrepreneurs to work on developing a prototype.
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