Elon Musk and the Hyperloop

Humans have been able to accomplish some pretty amazing things in the last 100 or 200 years. Along with creating the masterful 12-inch burrito, we’ve also figured out how to traverse incredible distances in short periods of time. You might not even think twice about hopping on an airplane and cruising half way around the world in a little over 10 hours, a journey that would have taken months just a century ago (depending on how bad your scurvy was). Our ability to move around the earth has undoubtedly improved our quality of life and connectivity, and incredulously we may soon be witnessing yet another landmark advancement in transportation technology. Elon Musk, easily one of the most geared people alive, has recently proposed an idea for a revolutionary form of transportation called the hyperloop. If this high-speed transport comes to fruition, we will be able to crush kilometers like I crush Gardetto’s. And I crush Gardetto’s. Before I explain what the hyperloop entails, let me first introduce Elon’s stacked resume as to give you some idea of the caliber of brain we’re dealing with here.

HL3Elon Musk has been a successful entrepreneur since the ripe young age of 12 when he wrote code for a video game and sold it for $500. After moving to the United States, Musk earned two degrees (business and physics) from the University of Pennsylvania. He then started his Ph.D. in physics at Stanford but left the program to try his hand at various business ventures, starting with a company called X.com which oversaw a little thing called PayPal. Ever heard of it? Musk eventually took over PayPal and casually cashed it in to eBay for $1.5 billion. Slick move, Elon. Seeing as billion dollar transactions aren’t interesting enough, he starts a company known as SpaceX which, as you might imagine, develops rockets that will soon transport cargo to the International Space Station. To top it all off, Elon founded your very own Tesla Motors, which now makes beautiful and outstandingly efficient vehicles that are making European luxury cars look like Hot Wheels. If you were ever unclear on what the term “geared” means, this paragraph defines it. Now let’s get to the hyperloop because I’m getting a bit tired of sucking Elon’s dick.

HL1The hyperloop was an idea that Elon Musk evoked after being disappointed with the high-speed rail proposed by the state of California that would cost nearly $70 billion. The basic concept of this mode of transportation is ultra high-speed transportation in pods through a tube with incredibly low friction (artist’s representation on the right). These tubes would be held up on posts erected every few hundred yards or so to create a highway-like track. You know how a puck slides seamlessly across an air hockey table? Or how those old vacuum tubes can shoot mail from place to place? It’s like that, but with pods of people traveling at speeds of up to 800 mother cunting miles per hour! If this isn’t the future of travel, I don’t know what it is. For acceleration, electric motors will be used to get the pods going to full speed at which point they will be able to coast for the rest of the ride due to the air hockey effect. Oh and I almost forgot the best part. Since the low-friction transport would require so little energy, the entire venture could be powered by solar panels on top of the tubes. Since Elon is also the chairman of a solar power company, this shouldn’t be a problem.

HL2Musk envisions this mode of transportation being capable of delivering passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just over 30 minutes, costing passengers a measly $20 per ticket. As is true with all new paradigm shifting ideas, the hyperloop has not come without serious criticism. One of the greatest concerns is that the project will cost a lot more than the estimated $7 billion that Elon projects. I tend to agree that projects like this have unforseen costs but it’s significantly cheaper than the $70 billion high-speed rail that the state of California is planning. Cost aside, most agree that the idea is technologically feasible, albeit very challenging. Call me a techno-optimist, but looking at Elon’s track record, faith is strangely easy to come by.

I could spend the rest of this post discussing various scientific, political, and economic concerns with the hyperloop, but 1) I’m not giving you material for a social sciences essay and 2) they aren’t necessarily important. You guys get the main idea: pods hurtling through a circular air-hockey table over incredible distances. The most critical idea to consider, in my opinion, is how the idea of transportation will change in the upcoming years and how that will transform society. Geographical barriers are quickly evaporating. We can basically get anywhere on the entire planet in less than 24 hours and we haven’t even gotten close to reaching our technological potential. 100 years ago, our predecessors would have been amazed at such a feat. Imagine what will be possible in the next 50 years?! I picture a world where physical space will no longer be a limit to our human experience. Whether this barrier will be overcome by virtual reality environments or hyperspeed transport, I do not know. What I do know is that humans will continue to transcend constraints on freedom. And Elon will surely have something to do with it.

– Orville