finally unveiled his plan for the Hyperloop, a new mode of transportation that can get people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes.
The Hyperloop is a low-pressure system that uses air pressure to send capsules holding up to 28 passengers through metal tubes.
It’s a brilliant method for travelling a great distance in a short period of time, though a method for high-speed transportation was never the real problem with a Hyperloop-like system.
The real problems have always been political, and Musk’s vision for the Hyperloop does nothing to untangle the messy political battle that will stop the Hyperloop from becoming a reality.
In 1972, a Rand scientist named, R.M. Salter, came up with his own version of the Hyperloop. He called it the “Very High Speed Transit System,” or VHST for short.
Salter’s VHST used electromagnetically levitated cars in an underground vacuum sealed tubes to transport people around the country in a short period of time.
Musk rejected this method because he says it’s nearly impossible to keep a 700-mile stretch of tubing vacuum sealed. “All it takes is one leaky seal or a small crack somewhere in the hundreds of miles of tube and the whole system stops working,” says Musk
Salter, for his part, admitted there were some challenges. He said, “The technical problems associated with the VHST development are manifold and difficult — but no scientific breakthroughs are required.”
We added the emphasis to “development”. Developing the VHST was the hard part, not the dreaming it.
Salter explained by saying, “History has shown that some obvious projects like tunneling under the English Channel proposed in the time of Napoleon can be delayed for centuries because of political pressure.
Now, 41 years later, we so no reason to believe the Hyperloop will manage to avoid those political pitfalls.
For example, Musk says the Hyperloop won’t take up a lot of land. He envisions it on pylons running along I-5. He even sees it running in the median of the highway.
To build the Hyperloop, then, it seems like he wants to create a massive construction project in the middle of a highway, thus causing huge traffic delays for years. It’s going to be hard to sell people on a project like that.
It’s going to be even harder to sell when you consider that Musk will not dedicate himself to the Hyperloop full-time.
Musk is CEO of two companies: electric car company Tesla, and space rocket company, SpaceX. He’s also on the board of Solar City, a solar installation company he co-founded. Outside of work, he has 5 children.
The guy is busy. So, he won’t have time available for the Hyperloop.
Ironically, his work-life balance is at least part of the inspiration for the Hyperloop.
Tesla is headquartered in Palo Alto, a 46 drive from San Francisco. SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, California, a 22 minute drive from Los Angeles.
Like any great entrepreneur, Musk is trying to solve a problem that bothers him in a deeply personal way. Musk has to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco regularly for his two jobs. He probably hates the long flight. And when he looks at the proposal for a high-speed train, he doesn’t see a vast improvement.
So, to make his life better, he dreamt up the Hyperloop.
But he can’t do the Hyperloop full-time because he’s already got two full-time jobs.
Yet, without someone of Musk’s stature, and Musk’s force of will, the Hyperloop can not happen.
It will take a famous billionaire with deep connections to make something as ambitious as the Hyperloop a reality.
So, unless he can find someone to push the Hyperloop past all the sceptics, past all the political tripwires, and past all the non-technical problems, the Hyperloop isn’t going to happen.
Musk’s detailed 57-page plan for how the Hyperloop could work has all kinds of technical details on how his pods would glide on air through tubes. He breaks down the costs, he breaks down the time travel. He even talks about what it will be like inside the Hyperloop.
But sadly his 57-page plan for the Hyperloop is missing the key element for its success: Elon Musk.