LA to San Fran in 30 minutes?  Thats exactly what Elon Musk proposed when he announced a design for ‘Hyperloop’ in August.  Hyperloop was a maglev train of sorts, which travelled in a low-pressure, above ground tube – at speeds up to 760mph.

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Musk is famous for outlandish ideas and bold moves – such as Tesla and SpaceX, however in this case he has no intention of building Hyperloop himself.  His ideas was to present the design and technology, generate biz and hope that others would build one.

The idea itself isn’t particularly new: R.M. Salter Jr proposed a similar idea in 1972, boasting speeds of thousands of miles per hour.  Even in 1904, inventor of the rocket Robert Goddard had a similar idea for transit.

What made Musk’s concept different was, of all things, it’s restraint.  Salter and Goddard pushed the idea of trains in a perfect vacuum – although tubes like this could easily leak.  Musk’s proposal offers a partial vacuum, meeting a nice compromise between efficiency and speed with tubes that are less impossible to maintain.  This compromise limits the speed of Hyperloop – Musk himself said that at any distance over 900 miles, travel would be faster and cheaper if done by supersonic flight.

Nonetheless, concerts and test tracks have been built, and tested, and the idea is out there.  Where SpaceX and Tesla have given Musk a reputation for being brash, Hyperloop may have proven him pragmatic and visionary.

There’s more stories from 2013.  Check out the Best of 2013 series here

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