American entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of website Paypal.com (as well as many other companies/ventures), has this month unveiled a potentially revolutionary form of travel.
The ‘Hyperloop’ would hypothetically connect the US cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco by transporting commuters at near supersonic speeds. By using a system of magnets and fans, the Hyperloop would be able to travel between the sprawling cities in about 30 minutes.
The system, which would ideally be solar-powered, represents a cleaner, cheaper and far more efficient system of public transport, at least in theory.
A high-speed train service between the two cities is currently in development, but the Hyperloop is potentially a better mode of travel. Mr. Musk is confident that the idea has potential, writing in his proposal that, “Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome… the only option for superfast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment,”
Musk estimated the overall cost of the project at $6bn (£3.9bn), which is surprisingly low considering that it involves the development of a new and untested technology.
He suggests that cars could leave at intervals of 30 seconds and that they would reach an incredible speed of up to 760MPH. The eventual ticket cost would be around $20 (£13 at the current exchange rate), according to Musk’s projections.
According to Musk, the Hyperloop would be faster than taking a plane between cities, as it would not spend time ascending and descending.
However, not everyone is as optimistic as the project’s founder. Dave Lee, technology reporter for BBC news wrote, “The bright idea of transporting people using some kind of vacuum-like tube is neither new nor imaginative”. He went on to remind readers that Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocket propulsion, proposed a similar, vacuum powered system back in 1909.
MIT aeronautics and astronautics Professor John Hansman was a little more optimistic, saying that the important question is not whether the idea is theoretically sound (it is), but is instead “could you do it in a way that makes sense from an energy-efficiency standpoint and makes sense from an economic standpoint?”
Other critics have attacked Musk’s projected costs, Alan Wickens, former director of British Rail said that Musk’s cost projections were “extremely optimistic”.
The Billionaire tycoon asserts that a working prototype would take roughly 4 years to build, but has also said that he is too busy to build it right away, as he is currently working on SpaceX, a commercial spaceflight project.
What, if any, future the Hyperloop will have depends greatly on the project’s ability to capture the imaginations of investors, engineers and the general public. We’ll keep you updated.