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Revealed: Elon Musk Explains the Hyperloop, the Solar-Powered High-Speed Future of Inter-City Transportation


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In Musk’s vision, the Hyperloop would transport people via aluminum pods enclosed inside of steel tubes. He describes the design as looking like a shotgun with the tubes running side by side for most of the journey and closing the loop at either end. These tubes would be mounted on columns 50 to 100 yards apart, and the pods inside would travel up to 800 miles per hour. Some of this Musk has hinted at before; he now adds that pods could ferry cars as well as people. “You just drive on, and the pod departs,” Musk told Bloomberg Businessweek in his first interview about the Hyperloop.

An artist's impression of the Hyperloop pod

Courtesy Elon MuskAn artist's impression of the Hyperloop pod

Musk published a blog post detailing the Hyperloop on Monday. He also held a press call to go over the details.

STORY: Hyperloop Physics 101 With Elon Musk

Musk has built his entrepreneurial career attacking businesses he deems inefficient or uninspiring. He co-founded PayPal in a bid to shake up the banking industry, then used the fortune he made selling the startup to eBay (EBAY) to fund equally ambitious efforts in transportation. Tesla Motors, for example, has created the highest-performing, highest-rated all-electric car and a complementary network of charging stations scattered around North America. Meanwhile, SpaceX competes against entire nations in the market to send up satellites and resupply the International Space Station.

In the case of the Hyperloop, Musk started focusing on public transportation after he grew disenchanted with the plans for California’s high-speed rail system. Construction on the highly political, $70 billion project is meant to begin in earnest this year, with plans to link cities from San Diego to Sacramento by 2029. “You have to look at what they say it will cost vs. the actual final costs, and I think it’s safe to say you’re talking about a $100 billion-plus train,” Musk says, adding that the train is too slow and a horrendous land rights mess.

Musk thinks the Hyperloop would avoid many of the land issues because it’s elevated. The tubes would, for the most part, follow I-5, the dreary but direct freeway between L.A. and San Francisco. Farmers would not have swaths of their land blocked by train tracks but could instead access their land between the columns. Musk figures the Hyperloop could be built for $6 billion with people-only pods, or $10 billion for the larger pods capable of holding people and cars. All together, his alternative would be four times as fast as California’s proposed train, at one-10th the cost. Tickets, Musk says, would be “much cheaper” than a plane ride.

I'm surprised they wouldn't suggest building one from LA to Vegas first.

That's a very good point.

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