Monday morning, Elon Musk of Tesla Motors fame will finally open up about his high-speed public transit system he has named Hyperloop. According to Musk, the Hyperloop will move you from downtown LA to downtown San Fran in 30 minutes. He’s been vague and evasive on the details for a while, but this is what we think we know so far about what the heck Hyperloop is.
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Musk hates the idea of a high-speed railway connecting the California cities. That concept has a price tag of $68 Billion and would move at 133 mph. Musk has said his concept will cost one tenth as much as that and doing the math on his LA to SF trip, the Hyperloop should move at 700mph. At least, that’s the claim
So it’s an airplane?
Back in May, Musk described it as a “cross between a rail gun, the concord, and an air hockey table”
There’s a lot of speculation that Hyperloop will use magnetic levitation or magnetic propulsion of some kind. Japans most recent bullet train used Maglev and it can average 300 mph – once its construction is finished.
Every current concept of high-speed transit on land tends to use magnetic levitation. The levitation removes friction from the equation, allowing for incredibly high speeds. Not only does Maglev produce lift, it can also provide thrust.
Making matters more interesting, the verge had a maglev expert sit down, and he seemed to think that the speed you can achieve with a maglev system is limitless – provided you happen to travel in a vacuum.
If, and its a big if, the hyperloop is going to move at speeds approaching 700 mph, it will have to move in some sort of system that has less air that our atmosphere. That’s right, a vacuum.
You don’t need to make the tube or tubes that hold the vehicle a total vacuum, you just need to be able to pressurize it and control the airflow.
So, it would seem the Hyperloop isn’t a train, exactly. Musk referred to them as ‘Pods’ and hinted at a 2-meter diameter.
While looking at the price, one has to concede that to remain as cheap as Musk has noted, this system wont be underground. The cost of subways are high, and its even higher in areas like New York or, yes, L.A. with existing underground infrastructure.
Recently, engineer and twitter user John Gardi put together a proposal he figured fit the bill – and Musk told him he was damn close.
Gardi’s concept uses tubes that pull pods using circulating air. Gardi compared the system to pneumatic tubes. The pods are launched by linear magnetic infection, the same idea that powers those crazy rail guns
Musk has also sari that a company called ET3 is also closely similar to his proposal. The ET3 uses Maglev pods blasted through a vacuum. ET3’s Chief and founder Daryl Oster has gone on record as saying this system could transport people from New York to Beijing in a couple of hours. It scales well, making either rang distance or just a few miles trip equally likely.
Oster also said ET3 uses about 1/50th the energy of a high-speed train, and that he could build a connection from S.F. to L.A. for about 1/10 the cost of a similarly scaled train – that’s the same price point exactly that Musk has thrown around. It’s unlikely that’s a coincidence.
Going back to John Gardi’s system, he suggested it would be an aboveground system. Oster agrees with that, saying it’s simply easier and cheaper. To go from New York to Beijing, however, you have to tunnel under ground, in order to keep the ‘train’ in as close to straight line as possible.
Musk has said he has no plan to construct the hyperloop. He’s just throwing the idea out there, open concept style. If Hyperloop is ever built, it could move people further, faster and for much less – if it’s even real. We’ll know a whole lot more, really soon.