SpaceX/Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk has unveiled details on the Hyperloop, his proposed (and until now mostly mysterious) plan for a railway system that could shoot passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a mere 30 minutes.
It's actually surprisingly close to what some early predictions forecasted: an elevated, low-friction, high-speed track based on pods, which would ferry people, and even cars, long distances at more than 700 miles per hour.
There are at least a few differences, though. The system was expected to run on a Maglev system (similar to that used in bullet trains) but it actually works through air bearings, a system that's similar to the low-friction environment created on a hockey table. (On a conference call, Musk described it as falling somewhere between a completely sealed vacuum and a gigantic version of one of those pneumatic-tube systems mail was sent through in the ol' days.) Musk told Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
Here are more details:
- The system would work for places about 900 miles apart or less--any more and supersonic air travel, Musk argues, would be a cheaper solution.
- Musk specifically uses a L.A.-to-San Francisco route as the proposed system. The Hyperloop would more or less follow along the I-5.
- In Musk's plan, the Hyperloop could carry 840 passengers per hour, with 70 pods leaving every 30 seconds
- "[F]or trip comfort and safety, it would be best to travel at high subsonic speeds for a 350 mile journey." Uhh, yes, seems like "high subsonic" (700-plus mph) would be sufficient.
- Hard to say what construction would be like for this. Presumably, Musk would have to fork over a lot of money to secure building rights along the I-5, which is dominated by farmland. Musk told BusinessWeek that, because the rail system would be elevated, there would be fewer land-rights issues. But that's not going to solve everything, and could considerably increase the price tag.
- About every 70 miles, an electric motor would provide a boost to the individual pods, shooting them farther along the track. The same system could slow down the pods as they approach their destination, and the energy taken from that could be rerouted to power the next batch of pods.
- Musk said on the call that it "would feel a lot like being on an airplane"--"like riding on a cushion of air." How? It doesn't accelerate normally, but by banking along the tube, which would mean about a half-g of force.
- As for risk of crashing, Musk said on the call that shock-absorbing pylons could absorb any earthquakes that could be reasonably anticipated.
- This is still expensive. Six billion dollars for a system that could carry people and $10 billion for one that could carry cars. (Context: Musk points out that price tag is more than his companies Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity spend combined, but a lot less than the proposed California High Speed Rail, which would theoretically be much slower.)
- Who's going to make this thing, then? Well, Musk has said previously that he would release the plans as an open-source system, and let anyone have at them. On the conference call, he backed away from that slightly, saying he would be likely to build a prototype if no one else steps up. (That's a surprise; he came off pretty firmly against the idea of building this thing himself recently.)
- On how long it would take: Musk says if a prototype were his top priority, he could get it done in one or two years--but since it won't be (the guy has got a few other companies to run), the prototype could be more like three or four years. Musk estimates it will take seven to 10 years to make the full project a reality. Might be a little early (literally, it's been, like, an hour since the plans were released) to be making estimates that far in the future.
So how exactly does this thing accelerate? All that the article says is that an electric motor provides a boost every 70 miles. How does it do that? I kinda imagine those Hotwheels accelerators that have rubber wheels that grab the car and throw it forward.
This would be extremely cool...if Musk financed it and ran it as a private enterprise. I wonder how much he would charge for tickets to make it profitable?
My guess is that the $6 billion cost is significantly underestimated, even if it was built on elevated tubing in the existing I-5 median to avoid paying for more right of way. It's never been done before so there would have to be a lot of R&D and testing, especially of the stability of elevated tubing in an earthquake-prone region.
Just for fun, here's how it compares to freeway and airline traffic.
Hyperloop - 840 passengers/hr., 30 minute trip, initial cost $6 billion+, ticket price ?
Airline (737-800, 160 passengers) - 896 passengers/hr. (leave every 10 minutes), 75 minute trip, 7 planes costing $624 million, ticket price < $200.
Freeway (4 lanes at 60 mph) - 6,000 cars/hr., 380 minute trip (6 hrs 20 min), $36 - $72.
They say time is money, which means speed is also money. The faster you go, the more expensive it's going to be.
More free technology being handed over to the Chinese. They are the only ones I believe that will spend money on something like this. I do like the idea but the Chinese will out bid everyone like they always do. I hope Musk is smarter than that.
Okay, so I found a .pdf on the internet (Google "hyperloop-alpha pdf") with the entire report. It actually looks fairly interesting.
As for the price of tickets:
"In this study, the initial route, preliminary design, and logistics of the Hyperloop transportation system have been derived. The system consists of capsules that travel between Los Angeles, California and San Francisco, California. The total trip time is approximately half an hour, with capsules departing as often as every 30 seconds from each terminal and carrying 28 people each. This gives a total of 7.4 million people each way that can be transported each year on Hyperloop. The total cost of Hyperloop in this analysis is under $6 billion USD. Amortizing this capital cost over 20 years and adding daily operational costs gives a total of about $20 USD (in current year dollars) plus operating costs per one-way ticket on the passenger Hyperloop."
That's the beauty of true innovators, they don't care who builds it so long as it gets built. Musk has said that he would love for this to be a crowd sourced project having the brightest minds from around the world all working in their own spare time to see this to fruition. Obviously it will take some serious financial backing to actually make this, but the brunt of the logistics can be taken on by private citizens.
Someone, somewhere is going to build this. If not California, it could still be likely that someone else (perhaps Florida) would be interested in this proposal.
Costing less than $10 billion dollars, this could easily go alongside freeways and connect major cities that are Hundreds of Miles from each other, costing less than an airline ticket, and going significantly faster than any contemporary airliner. I'm actually glad Musk released this as an open-source project, because now anyone can pursue this and build a working version.
I like the idea and I think it would be neat to build an underground version that travels in an inverted parabolic arc that simulates weightlessness for 30 minutes.
THAT would be AWESOME!
As much as I think this is cool, I am NOT fond of the fact that farmland would be consumed to build the hyperloop. We are still losing a LOT of farmland every year and food is more important than convenient travel.
There are also several significant problems that would need to be addressed.
How will this be protected from earthquakes?
What happens if the air bearings fail and the pods fall onto the track? A pod tumbling along at 700 miles/hour is going to do a LOT of damage.
Permanent magnets should be installed as a backup.
The most recent cost estimates for constructing a much less complex LA-SF high speed rail line are over $100 billion. The construction costs for the system proposed by Mr. Musk would easily be 2 or 3 times that amount.
And anyone that has ever traveled by commercial air in the US would tell you that the notion of Hyperloop "pods" regularly going down the tube at the rate of 2 per minute is complete fantasy. A single pod breakdown would bring half the entire system to a halt.
This would've been perfect for the UK where we've just spent £50bil on a High Speen Rail link that only cuts the travel time by 30mins, is still racking up the costs and not yet operational. In the UK our max travel distance is about 500 miles, London to Edingburgh. This country make me sad!!
The high speed rail project in California is a bumbling failure. If the government officials had any progressive thinkers left out there, they would scrap their plans for the slowest and one of the most costly bullet trains in the world and divert their funds in ways that will aid Musk's Hyperloop plan in coming to fruition. The guy is perhaps one of the greatest visionary entrepreneurs of the 21st century.
Another money pit proposal, while ignoring other real problems.... same old, same old thing.
This seems like a fun ride. I just I can afford it too.
If this technology ever became common place it could change the very way we live and work. For instance, I work in Washington, DC. So I'm forced to live within driving distance (about a 50 mile radius) of the city. With this technology I could easily live 500 miles away and still make the commute in the same amount of time I do now (less than an hour) provided there was a "tube station" nearby.
The Hyperloop is not a truck.
It's a series of tubes!
(YouTube: The Internet is not a Truck)
840 passengers per hour is likely FAR less than a single lane of the highway can conduct.
So this thing will reduce the total number of people who can traverse the corridor in a given time period and permanently damage the possibility of expanding it at the same time.
Individual transportation and vehicles is still the most efficient solution to moving multiple passengers to multiple destinations.
Mr Musk would be well advised to spend his time trying to produce an alternative fuel and/or motor because this is going nowhere.
Don't mistake abilty, power etc for complexity. This sounds relatively simple. 6 billion does sound pretty cheap though.
You want to kill everyone on board this thing just cut the power to the pod with an EMP while its in a giant freaking vacuum. Or, wait til its moving 700mph and break the tube. It has no internal breaking. It won't be able to slow down. This thing needs a lot more than 1 break every 70 miles. That's a fire and forget projectile. Anything goes wrong with the power or the tube... pray your pod breaks out of the tube. Your pod is obviously sealed/pressurized.
I suppose this will be more like the risk involved with riding on an airplane. However, putting in a bottom, or top, rail that can follow the length of the tube, for breaking or emergency acceleration, I think is just good safety. Don't throw out safety just to save money. He's already being cheap in my opinion. This thing should have control the whole way if it needs it. No one wants to be stuck in a giant vacuum.
Also, I'm wondering if their might be a smaller Ambulance POD that can go Supersonic?
"Do not try and bend the spoon. That is impossible. Only try and realize the truth - there is no spoon."
Bobbyg - "Mr Musk would be well advised to spend his time trying to produce an alternative fuel and/or motor because this is going nowhere."
Great idea! Wait, he already did that. Google "Tesla" for more info.
In this proposal the pressure in the tunnel is lower than ambient, but not a vacuum.
Each pod has it's own set of retractable wheels for emergency braking, and slow moving in the event of external power failure. Also, each pod will have emergency oxygen provided through airplane style drop down masks.
Read the full proposal on the "Details" link provided in the article.
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Personally, I like the idea of an Evacuated Tube Transport system which is more expensive to build, but could be much faster. While it wouldn't be practical for a LA to SF route, it would make transcontinental travel much faster.
Perhaps a small hyperloop would whet the nations appetite for something even more ambitious than an ETT.
I was going to say the same thing. The ETT designed by the company ET3, has top speed of 4000mph. LA to NY in 45min, NY to Beijing in 2hrs. You could literally live and work on different continents.
Though, as a resident of California, I'd still be completely satisfied If they built the Hyperloop instead of the slowest most expensive bullet train in the world. I heard that there is a group of people trying to stop the highspeed rail project in court. I hope they succeed. What a waste of money...OUR (taxpayer's) money.
I suppose that the rails for this must be VERY straight one as Musk did say "like "high subsonic" (700-plus mph) would be sufficient" or at least the curves must be longer to account for centripetal forces. this brought to mind the last time i rode one of those "roller coasters" wherein my cab went one way and my stomach wanted to continue on the previous direction due to momentum. and this i think is much, much faster.
@democedes, you're a god damned piece of.... I'm just kidding. I did not read the full details. I'm an idiot. That is very interesting. I will read further before I open my big trap. Problem is my finger biceps are huge! Just can't help typing sometimes! :)
Not such a bad design really. @KushSmoka420v, the 4000 mph version sounds freaking amazing! Checking that out. Can;t believe it escaped my radar. That's faster than a bullet! No walls can touch that lightning bolt for sure. That train hits something at 4000 mph we might find the Graviton in the collision. lol. Ouch.
"Do not try and bend the spoon. That is impossible. Only try and realize the truth - there is no spoon."
So, running at full capacity of 840 People/Hr for 5 years (8765.81 Hours/year X 5 Year = 43829 Hours) would yield 36,816,360 Tickets in 5 Years. To Pay back to 6 Billion Dollar price tag in 5 years, the ticket cost would be $162.97.
The proposal suggests a ticket price of $20 to pay for the cost over 20 years.
That would cover half the cost. 162.97/4 is still $40 a ticket.
Now consider that driving a car, gas costs $50.00 one way SF to LA (30mpg and gas at $4.00/gal)
The technology for 700mph commercial aircraft travel has existed for several decades, but due to the high costs involved it has not become a reality. The economics of Hyperloop would not be much better, so why would it be successful? There is an established relationship between speed and cost of various modes of travel. To accept that this Hyperloop system would allow commercial passenger travel at twice the speed and one-third the cost of commercial jets would require a suspension of belief in established principles of market economics and physics.
The Concorde was a reality, and the reasons why it failed financially are known. The major two being noise pollution and high ticket cost. These are not even issues with the hyperloop. So the comparison is not valid.
A more valid comparison would be high speed trains, which have been commercially successful in many parts of the world. So, what principles of market economics are being violated here? The hyperloop will offer faster service between two major cities for lower cost.
On the physics side the hyperloop isn't really that ambitions. Air bearings, linear motors, tubes... these things have all been around for a hundred years or more. They simply have not been tried in this particular configuration.
I would say skepticism is in order, but to dismiss the hyperloop out of hand simply because it sounds too good to be true would be a mistake. Where would we be today if no one took a risk on a new idea? In caves.