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Technology To Watch For: The Hyperloop

Billionaire Inventor Elon Musk has proposed what could be the first real breakthrough in sustainable, low-emission, and high-speed transportation systems; the Hyperloop.


Earlier this year, Billionaire Inventor and Businessman Elon Musk, introduced the world to one of his new ideas, the Hyperloop. The proposal was for a revolutionary high-speed transportation system that was ahead of hits time. The resulting media frenzy provided both positive and negative feedback on the reality of implementing Musk's dream.

What Is The Hyperloop?

The Hyperloop is a mass transit system design to rapidly and inexpensively move people from one point to another within a predefined 1000-mile radius. The theory behind the Hyperloop system is a lot like the vacuum systems used by bank teller drive-throughs, but instead moves people at speeds of nearly 800 miles-per-hour while only using self-generated power from kinetic energy and solar panels located along the length of the Hyperloop.

The Hyperloop system would use a low-pressure steel tube to move capsules containing people and/or cars. The aluminum capsules would use ski-like rails on the lower side to pump out a cushion of air allowing the capsule to float. Propulsion would be applied using magnets, also located on the ski rails, and electromagnetic pulses provided by linear electric motors located in the lower parts of the tube, under the skis. Deceleration would be accomplished by the same linear acceleration motors on the destination side of the tube allowing excess kinetic energy to be applied to the next capsule departure.

The aluminum transport pods are designed to seat up to 28 people each and could leave at 30 second intervals. This rate could transport up to 7.4 million people each direction on the proposed S.F. to L.A. router per year.

Musk suggests that the total construction costs for the Hyperloop system between San Francisco and Los Angeles would total more than 6 billion dollars, but that individual ticket prices would cap out at only $20. This price would make the Hyperloop the most cost effective transport between both locations when compared to trains, planes, and automobiles.

This Sounds Great. So What's The Hold Up?

While the Hyperloop transportation system sounds like an excellent plan to lower emissions, costs, and time wasted for commuters, there are significant issues with the plan's designs and proposed implementation.

First, the state of California has already allocated $68 billion for the design and implementation of a high-speed rail system. While this new rail system will be most expensive by nearly ten times, significantly slower, and more environmentally impactful than the Hyperloop, lawmakers and politicians alike are less than likely to allocate more funds to create another high-speed transportation system before the current one is even finished.

The next obstacle to Hyperloop implementation is land allocation. The initial proposal for the Hyperloop suggests using the right-of-way along California highways in order to circumvent environmental impact and usage negotiations. However, the proposed footprint of each support pylon may not fit within current right-of-way boundaries while still providing for safe usage by cars and trucks. If this is the case, each affected landowner would need to allow usage for their parts of the system. This could increase costs and create delays in construction if not a total redirection of the Hyperloop line.

The most significant issue that could hold up the implementation of a Hyperloop transportation system is the untested design itself. While Elon Musk has devoted a significant amount of time and resources into planning and designing the Hyperloop, there are no demonstration or test Hyperloops yet. So until a test design is built and demonstrated, the design exist only on paper. Questions have been raised concerning the strength of the support pylons, safety systems for moving capsules, and the proposed sustainable energy system. Some detractors also suggest that the materials and systems needed to make the Hyperloop work are not reliable or cheap enough to fulfill Musk's proposal yet.

Hyperloop Dream

The single best feature of the Hyperloop, in my estimation, has been the excitement that its announcement has kindled. The Hyperloop represents a glimpse into the future that many of us were promised would exist when we were children. We, as a people, have lost the excitement that technology should provide. There are no great space programs sending people to the stars, or personal flying cars, or underwater cities, or great rotating space colonies in orbit: each of these things were promised to children as we dreamed of the future. Here is a chance to grasp the future we were promised.

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