There’s no shortage of reasons to call Elon Musk a badass.
He’s super-successful. He has a company that does private rocket launches that look like something approaching magic. He’s made the best car of all time, according to Consumer Reports. And the latest news is that he’s made the safest car of all time, as well.
Here’s another thing about him that goes overlooked: He’s a tremendous communicator, on par or possibly better than Steve Jobs. Because while Steve Jobs was talking about the magic of gadgets, Musk is actually communicating about engineering concepts, which fly above most people’s heads.
Read this from Tesla’s announcement today about its safety rating. It’s a wonderful paragraph:
The Model S has the advantage in the front of not having a large gasoline engine block, thus creating a much longer crumple zone to absorb a high speed impact. This is fundamentally a force over distance problem — the longer the crumple zone, the more time there is to slow down occupants at g loads that do not cause injuries. Just like jumping into a pool of water from a tall height, it is better to have the pool be deep and not contain rocks. The Model S motor is only about a foot in diameter and is mounted close to the rear axle, and the front section that would normally contain a gasoline engine is used for a second trunk.
After you read that, you instantly grasp how Tesla’s small engine block makes it safer.
You also saw this in Musk’s Hyperloop announcement.
Read this section about the limitations of blasting a pod through a tube, and how Musk intended to overcome it. Again, it’s just beautifully readable writing:
Nature’s top speed law for a given tube to pod area ratio is known as the Kantrowitz limit. This is highly problematic, as it forces you to either go slowly or have a super huge diameter tube. Interestingly, there are usually two solutions to the Kantrowitz limit — one where you go slowly and one where you go really, really fast.
The latter solution sounds mighty appealing at first, until you realise that going several thousand miles per hour means that you can’t tolerate even wide turns without painful g loads. For a journey from San Francisco to LA, you will also experience a rather intense speed up and slow down. And, when you get right down to it, going through transonic buffet in a tube is just fundamentally a dodgy prospect.
Both for trip comfort and safety, it would be best to travel at high subsonic speeds for a 350 mile journey. For much longer journeys, such as LA to NY, it would be worth exploring super high speeds and this is probably technically feasible, but, as mentioned above, I believe the economics would probably favour a supersonic plane.
The approach that I believe would overcome the Kantrowitz limit is to mount an electric compressor fan on the nose of the pod that actively transfers high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel. This is like having a pump in the head of the syringe actively relieving pressure.
Most business writing is horrendously larded with jargon. The danger of that when talking about tech and engineering is especially high. Via excellent use of analogy, explanation, and imagery we’re all familiar with (a syringe, a swimmer jumping into a pool, etc.) Musk succeeds in telling stories that grab the imagination.
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