Sounds like Elon Musk, the indefatigable tech pioneer of SpaceX and Tesla electric Car fame is ready to get another pet project off the ground. This time, it is the Hyperloop, a space-age transportation system that would radically compress the time it would take to travel on Earth. It would also be safer, cleaner and more energy-efficient than conventional transport. And it might just be cheaper to build it than to study it, suggested tech analyst Rob Enderle.
He is poised to publish the alpha design of his proposed 'Hyperloop' futuristic transportation technology, at a media conference on August 12, according to Christina Ra, communications director of SpaceX.
Hyperloop would be immune to weather, travel three to four times faster than a bullet train or twice the average speed of an aircraft, and take commuters from downtown Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than 30 minutes for much less than any other mode of transport, Musk has suggested. It would also cost less to build than other modes of transportation.
Musk estimates the cost of a Hyperloop between San Francisco and Los Angeles would be around US$6 billion, compared to the $68 billion projected cost of the high-speed rail project proposed for California. Musk's estimate "is probably lowball," remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. What's a Hyperloop Like? It's not clear just what Hyperloop, which Musk posits as an alternative to planes, trains and automobiles, and, yes, boats, will be like. He has likened it to a ground-based Concorde jet plane, it would not require rails and solar panels may figure somewhere in the mix, as well as maglev, or magnetic levitation.
"It sounds like an in-tube maglev train," said Enderle. "You'd have to figure out how to deal with the bow wave, and he indicated it wouldn't be a vacuum tube, so it would have to be some kind of creative venting, like a huge silencer." The cost of producing the power required would be low, especially with solar panels being used, Musk maintained. However, Musk may be lagging the competition.
ET3 has a similar concept in the works for which it has sold more than 60 licenses worldwide — about a dozen of them in China, according to the firm. ET3's system consists of automobile-sized passenger capsules traveling on maglev in two-way vacuum tubes 2m in diameter. People enter and exit at transfer stations equipped with airlocks. The capsules are accelerated by linear electric motors when they leave the stations, and coast through the vacuum for the rest of their trip.
Most of the energy used is regenerated as they slow down. Capsules will shoot along at 600kmph for in-state trips in the initial ET3 systems, and will accelerate to 6,500kmph for international travel. An ET3 system can be built for 1/10 the cost of high-speed rail, or 1/4 the cost of a freeway, the company said. Nearly 74 percent of respondents to an American Public Transportation Association survey in June favored increased investment in public transportation.
Perhaps the government should throw its weight behind Musk's idea or look at other proposals, such as the one from ET3. "It was estimated that it would cost $3 million to run a monorail from Anaheim to the Los Angeles airport, and they spent $9 million proving that it wouldn't be economical," Enderle mused. "It would probably be cheaper to build the Hyperloop than to study it if that model holds true."