Elon Musk is the most interesting technology entrepreneur in the world right now.
He’s the CEO of electric car company Tesla, CEO of space exploration company SpaceX, and chairman of solar power installation company Solar City.
In his spare time, he says he came up with a way to get people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes.
He calls it the “Hyperloop” and he says he’s going to reveal his plan for how it could work on August 12.
Last July, he outlined his vision for the Hyperloop:
“This system I have in mind, how would you like something that can never crash, is immune to weather, it goes 3 or 4 times faster than the bullet train. It goes an average speed of twice what an aircraft would do. You would go from downtown LA to downtown San Francisco in under 30 minutes. It would cost you much less than an air ticket than any other mode of transport. I think we could actually make it self-powering if you put solar panels on it, you generate more power than you would consume in the system. There’s a way to store the power so it would run 24/7 without using batteries. Yes, this is possible, absolutely.”
While it sounds like a crazy dream, there’s research to suggest it’s a possibility.
In 1972, Rand Corporation scientist R.M. Salter published a 17-page report detailing how something like the Hyperloop could be a reality.
Salter called his transportation system the Very High Speed Transit, or VHST.
“The general principles are fairly straightforward: electromagnetically levitated and propelled cars in an evacuated tunnel,” said Salter.
The VHST, as envisioned by Salter, would be vacuum sealed tubes buried underground. They would go from Los Angeles to Amarillo, Texas to Chicago to New York city. At each major stop there would be offshoots to take you to major cities.
“The VHST’s ‘tubecraft’ ride on, and are driven by, electromagnetic waves much as a surfboard rides the ocean’s wave,” said Salter. “The EM waves are generated by pulsed, or by oscillating, currents in electrical conductors that form the roadbed structure in the evacuated tube way. Opposing magnetic fields in the vehicle are generated means of a loop superconducting cable carrying on the order of a million amperes of current.”
The VHST could travel as fast as 14,000 miles per hour, allowing for a trip between Los Angeles and New York City in under 30 minutes in a straight trip.
Importantly, Salter didn’t believe there was much holding back the VHST from a technological perspective: “The technical problems associated with the VHST development are manifold and difficult — but no scientific breakthroughs are required,” said Salter at the time.
He considered construction of the VHST a political problem. Digging giant tunnels underground isn’t something that every town is willing to accept.
When Musk finally reveals his master plan for the Hyperloop, let’s hope he includes a plan for how to get local, state, and federal government on board.
Because without political support, the Hyperloop is destined to be as much a reality as the VHST.
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