It’s been roughly 110 years since the last new form of transportation, the plane, was invented. It’s probably about time for a reboot. And who better to do it than serial entrepreneur of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX fame, and general all around do-gooder, Elon Musk.

A year ago Musk announced at a fireside chat with PandoDaily that he had been thinking about a possible new endeavour he called the “Hyperloop”.

As Musk noted [see video at 43 min mark], he’s inspired by technology stories that seem like sad situations, and wonders “how could we make it not a sad thing” (his words, really). The proposed $60 billion Los Angeles – San Francisco bullet train was one of those stories. It’s the slowest and most expensive bullet train (per mile) in the world, “setting records at all the wrong ends of the spectrum”.

Not only does he start by asking, “what is the theoretically fastest way you could get from” point A to point B, but what attributes would you ideally be looking for in a new 5th mode of transport? (The other four being planes, trains, automobiles and boats.)

How about something that:

  • Can never crash,
  • Is immune to weather,
  • Goes and average 800-mph  (We’re talking twice the average speed of a plane, or to put that in perspective, the fastest proposed bullet train coming on line in 2027 in Japan will go 310-mph)
  • Would cost you less than any other mode of transport, AND – as if all that wasn’t enough;
  • Would be self powering if you put solar panels on it, (and there would be a way to store the power so the system could run 24/7)

That would cut the $60 billion, 3 hour, 400 mile bullet train trip between LA and San Fran to 30 minutes, and he says he thinks it could cost 1/10th of the bullet trains price tag – or 6 billion dollars. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably saying: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, right? 

Well yesterday, on July 15th, Musk announced on Twitter that he would be releasing the alpha design plans for the Hyperloop, by August 12th, open-source, so that he can get feedback!

The story is gaining some momentum in anticipation of the release. Verge picked it up, as did the New York Times Tech Blog, Bits. Lots of people are speculating what his idea might actually be, given all the hints so far.

Musk hinted that it was going to be “a cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table” in his interview with PandoDaily, and given the cost, probably won’t require vacuum tubes.

But get this. In answering responses from followers, it looks like we may have the biggest clue yet. @John_Gadi took a stab at what he thought was Musk’s idea, and Musk responded “your guess is the closest I’ve seen anyone guess so far. Pod diameter probably around 2m”

From this image, it looks like individual cars will be magnetically propelled into a stream of air moving super fast, and move out of that stream to decelerate upon arrival. @John_Gadi also noted that this means the tubes can be assembled in one place and transported along an elevated track for rapid and efficient construction.

For now, we’ll just have to see how close his guess is to the real thing on August 12th. Then the real waiting game begins. I know I could use something that cuts my trip from Ottawa to Calgary down to 45 minutes. How about you? Besides LA to San Francisco, where would you like to see a Hyperloop built? Do you really think it’s possible or is it just too dangerous to travel that fast? Add your thoughts in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Twitpic, Tinker


Phil Holdsworth

Phil Holdsworth

Probably a little too willing to call wherever his bag and pillow are home, Phil has explored the world, from his home bases in England and Canada, to communities across East and Southern Africa. Whether it’s a gadget or an app to improve and enhance your travels, or insider information on how to experience something off the beaten path, Phil’s the one searching it out. The last time he went to Africa, he had a data plan before he knew where he was staying.

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