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08.12.13

Elon Musk Introduces the Hyperloop, a System for Ultra-Rapid Transit

If you thought Tesla was cool and futuristic, wait 'til you see its founder Elon Musk's proposal for high-speed tube travel. Meet the Hyperloop.

It’s a question technology and transportation enthusiasts have been mulling over for months. What will Elon Musk—the genius behind Space X, Tesla, and Solar City—come up with next? Rumors have been swirling that he would propose a fifth mode of transportation for the U.S and on Monday, the wait ended with a futuristic proposal straight out of the Jetsons.

Musk’s high speed transport system is called the Hyperloop, and the inventor likens the design to the barrels of a shot gun. Think two metal tubes placed side by side enclosed with pods inside of them. Pods run one direction down one tube and the opposite direction down the other. High speed air thrusts the pods from one location to the final destination, continuously giving them little bursts along the way. Through a low-pressure system and highly developed materials that resist drag and wear and tear, Musk expects the pods to travel up to 800 miles per hour, just below the speed of sound. In one version of the design, Musk shows the Hyperloop carrying people to and fro in pods that look similar to the seats in an airplane. The inventor says cars could also easily be transferred via a larger system.

The design isn’t cheap. But weighing in at a lofty $6 to $10 billion price tag, it’s far less expensive than current high-speed alternatives, like train systems. Musk’s design takes specific aim at an upgraded high-speed rail system planned to be built in California that would link major cities Los Angeles and San Francisco. That system is planned to cost $70 billion, at least seven times the predicted cost of a Hyperloop. The Hyperloop is also touted for being green, and thus even more likely to be embraced by environmentalists. It’s designed to be run purely on solar power.

Of course there are still major kinks to be worked out in Musk’s plan. Beyond the obvious question of where the system can be built (it’s meant to connect areas less than 1,000 miles apart), the biggest query is who’s going to pay for it? Musk says he won’t, although the technology billionaire stands behind his idea and design he says he is simply too busy with his other endeavors like Tesla Motors and SpaceX to focus on anything else. So instead he’s offering his idea up as a blueprint for any investors that may want to jump on it, tweak it, and build it.

So far, nobody has raised his or her hand to run with the Hyperloop plans. So this new transportation system remains very much in the sketch/fantasy phase. Still, skeptics should remember one thing. The Hyperloop sounds ridiculously far-fetched. But a few years ago, so did the idea of making a profit from building and selling an electric-powered sports car.