Elon Musk wants to build a Hyperloop.
Adam Rifkin stashed this in California
Happy to see he's getting even more ambitious:
Musk is cooking up plans for something he calls the Hyperloop. He won’t share specifics but says it’s some sort of tube capable of taking someone from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. He calls it a “fifth mode of transportation” — the previous four being train, plane, automobile, and boat. “What you want is something that never crashes, that’s at least twice as fast as a plane, that’s solar powered and that leaves right when you arrive, so there is no waiting for a specific departure time,” Musk says. His friends claim he’s had a Hyperloop technological breakthrough over the summer. “I’d like to talk to the governor and president about it,” Musk continues. “Because the $60 billion bullet train they’re proposing in California would be the slowest bullet train in the world at the highest cost per mile. They’re going for records in all the wrong ways.” The cost of the SF-LA Hyperloop would be in the $6 billion range, he says.
Stop making sense!
I like the vacuum tube transport concept.... The real question is not how will it work, but how will it break?
His thinking has to involve a vacuum tube transport. Probably small maglev modules, buffered in and out with multiple in flight at any time. The airlock / exchange at each station would take some engineering, but could be done.
The three failure modes to solve are: 1) loss of vacuum, presumably you just slow to a stop, 2) malfunction of airlock / exchange, redundant computer control to avoid squishing, 3) earthquake or other sudden breach / misalignment of tube: detectable for shutdown, but some chance of being unlucky.
Those seem like interesting engineering problems to solve. Fun!
Interesting overlap with the discussion in this thread about whether successful entrepreneurs need to be jerks.
The article mentions Musk is "not easy to work for" and all the other usual "does not suffer fools gladly" type of euphemisms...
While on my run today, I realized what he's really planning:
Vacuum tube transport, with Model T (tube) electric cars. Up the batteries a bit, tune tires to provide smooth ride on custom tunnel tracks, use air pressure to launch and decelerate on each end. If the vacuum fails or comes later, it just becomes less efficient. No need for super expensive maglev, although micro-adjusting tracks might be best to maintain smoothness. Power lines could be provided, but it might be cheaper to use batteries and super capacitors.
By using a bespoke tunnel, you can remove the main problem with cars: Our long obsolete speed limits. Train mode, even if it were with road-legal cars, can run on its own rules. You could use the car's drive train and battery, or some kind of flatbed train module, or maybe both depending on whether it is rush hour or individual hour.
Therefore, you could make your vehicles much more attractive if they could be used to go 150-200MPH+ on popular routes, perhaps even charging on the way. Throw in Internet connectivity, movies, etc., for in-flight entertainment, and you've got something.
Why build another slow highway or a boring train system that only fits a few people, when you could build an ultra-highway that is as fast or faster, yet allows you to use your electric car on each end. It is an industrialists dream: own the only suitable cars and the only fast road, plus plenty of opportunities for upsell.
Then the only problems are quick removal of broken down vehicles (infrequent with an electric), emergency need to "pull over" for some reason, etc.
Now, the interesting thing is that he's talking about SF->LA (481 mi) in 30 minutes, which implies a speed of 750MPH. That definitely implies vacuum tube travel, or moving the air in the tube at 750MPH. The latter's cumulative friction is off the scale, so that seems unlikely. Any active reaction propulsion, like rockets, would ruin the vacuum. Rolling wheels could be used at that speed, especially as in a vacuum there's no air pressure lifting the tire off the ground. However, you'd need advanced bearings to carry much weight and not wear out quickly or overheat at that speed, plus large wheels that wouldn't do well on streets. On the other hand, acceleration by wheel is more efficient than maglev pushing, except perhaps with a railgun like launch and periodic bossting and then coasting nearly friction free for long distances.
It's possible that if every mile of tube were covered with efficient solar to a reasonable width, there would be nearby power for vacuum maintenance, maglev power, propulsion, and battery recharging.