The Hyperloop: a new and super-high-tech form of transportation that can take passengers (and maybe even cars) from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes, and that can be built for a tenth of what California is planning to spend on its high-speed rail system. If anyone else had come up with this idea, few in the press would have considered it worthy of so much as a blog post.
But when such a thing is proposed by a man who has revolutionized the internet, sent private spaceships into orbit, and built a production electric car that outsells competing models from Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lexus, even conservative business magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek and Forbes don’t hesitate to give it feature billing, with nary a hint of sniggering or snark.
As many a skeptic has learned the hard way, it’s perilous to bet against Elon Musk. Furthermore, this is not some whim that he came up with over coffee this morning. The plan for the Hyperloop was developed over a period of nine months by a team of a dozen engineers from Tesla and SpaceX. Musk and company have just released a 57-page outline of the system.
Musk describes the Hyperloop as a pair of elevated steel tubes, with aluminum pods inside, traveling at up to 800 miles per hour. “The pods will ride on air bearings,” he told Bloomberg. “The pod produces air, and it’s pumped out of little holes on these skis. This is something that is used quite a bit in industry. You can move huge, heavy objects with very low friction, using air bearings.”
As for the energy required: “There were guys questioning the energy that would be required to move the air and the pod. They didn’t quite appreciate that it’s not the air that is moving the pod. The pod is accelerated to velocity by a linear accelerator, which is…actually a linear electric motor…The linear motor would electromagnetically accelerate the pod. It would be just below where the skis are. It just creates an electromagnetic pulse that travels along the tube and pushes the pod to that initial velocity of 800 miles per hour.”
“It’s a linear electric induction motor, the same as what is in the Model S,” Musk said in an interview with Forbes. “This is a pretty longstanding technology: The linear electric induction motor was essentially invented by Nikola Tesla back in the day.”
Musk also told Forbes that he might just build a demonstration prototype himself. “I think it might help if I built a demonstration article. I think I probably will do that, actually. I’ve sort of come around in my thinking on that part.”