'Hyperloop' would link LA-SF in 30 mins, if built (Update 2)

Aug 12, 2013 by Justin Pritchard

Imagine strapping into a car-sized capsule and hurtling through a tube at more than 700 mph (1,126 kph)—not for the thrill of it, but to get where you need to go.

On Monday, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled a transportation concept that he said could whisk passengers the nearly 400 miles (643 kilometers) between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes—half the time it takes an airplane.

If it's ever built.

His "Hyperloop" system for travel between major cities is akin to the pneumatic tubes that transport capsules stuffed with paperwork in older buildings.

In this case, the cargo would be people, reclining for a ride that would start with a force of acceleration like an airplane but then be turbulence free.

Capsules would catapult through a large, nearly air-free tube. Inside, they would be pulled down the line by magnetic attraction.

Each capsule would float on a cushion of air it creates—like an air hockey table in which the puck produces the air instead of the surface. To minimize friction, a powerful fan at the front would suck what air is in the tube to the rear.

"Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment," Musk wrote in his proposal, posted online.

Capsules could depart every 30 seconds, carrying 28 people, with a projected cost of about $20 each way, according to Musk's plan, which was posted online at http://www.spacex.com/hyperloop. The proposed route would follow Interstate 5—a well-traveled path linking California's north and south through the agriculture-rich Central Valley.

An image released by Tesla Motors, is a sketch of the Hyperloop capsule with passengers onboard. . Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 unveiled a concept for a transport system he says would make the nearly 400-mile trip in half the time it takes an airplane. The "Hyperloop" system would use a large tube with capsules inside that would float on air, traveling at over 700 miles per hour. (AP Photo/Tesla Motors)

On a conference call Monday, Musk said that if all goes right, it could take seven to 10 years for the first passengers to make the journey between California's two biggest metro areas. He put the price tag at around $6 billion—pointedly mentioning that's about one-tenth the projected cost of a high-speed rail system that California has been planning to build.

Indeed, the Hyperloop was inspired by that rail system, which has a cost too high and speed too low to justify the project, Musk said.

In a written statement, California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard suggested that Musk was oversimplifying the challenges.

An image released by Tesla Motors, is a conceptual design rendering of the Hyperloop passenger transport capsule. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 unveiled a concept for a transport system he says would make the nearly 400-mile trip in half the time it takes an airplane. The "Hyperloop" system would use a large tube with capsules inside that would float on air, traveling at over 700 miles per hour. (AP Photo/Tesla Motors)

"If and when Mr. Musk pursues his Hyperloop technology, we'll be happy to share our experience about what it really takes to build a project in California, across seismic zones, minimizing impacts on farms, businesses and communities and protecting sensitive environmental areas and species," Richard said.

Like the bullet train, the Hyperloop didn't take long to attract skepticism.

Musk had framed his concept as a fifth way—an alternative to cars, planes, trains and boats. Citing barriers such as cost and the mountains that rim the Central Valley, one transportation expert called Musk's idea novel, but not a breakthrough.

"I don't think it will provide the alternative that he's looking for," said James E. Moore II, director of the transportation engineering program at the University of Southern California.

Monday's unveiling lived up to the hype part of its name.

Musk has been dropping hints about his system for more than a year during public events, mentioning that it could never crash and would be immune to weather.

Coming from almost anyone else, the hyperbole would be hard to take seriously. But Musk has a track record of success. He co-founded online payment service PayPal, electric luxury carmaker Tesla Motors Inc. and the rocket-building company SpaceX.

In this June 22, 2012 file photo, Tesla CEO Elon Musk waves during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. Musk on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 unveiled a concept for a transport system he says would make the nearly 400-mile trip in half the time it takes an airplane. The "Hyperloop" system would use a large tube. Inside, capsules would float on air, traveling at over 700 miles per hour. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

By Monday afternoon, the word Hyperloop—which had been mentioned a handful of times in recent weeks on Twitter—was being tweeted about 20 times every minute. Hyperloop was the top "hot search" on Google, with more than 200,000 searches.

Musk has said he is too focused on other projects to consider actually building the Hyperloop, and instead is publishing an open-source design that anyone can use or modify.

That's still the case, he said Monday, but added that if no one else steps forward he might build a working prototype. That would take three or four years, he said.

As with Tesla and SpaceX, Musk mused, there are bound to be unforeseen technical obstacles.

Explore further: For Google's self-driving cars, learning to deal with the bizarre is essential

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User comments : 32

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axemaster
5 / 5 (7) Aug 12, 2013
Having read the proposal in full, I can only say that I think this is an excellent idea. However, I'm also forced to wonder why this hasn't been proposed before, because while it's quite clever, it doesn't reach a level that I would consider totally non-obvious.

The only explanation I can think of is that Elon Musk is coming at the problem with a significantly different mindset from most researchers. He attacked the idea from the viewpoint of actually building it, while most research teams sort of muse about the theory and never truly get into the technical issues.

Regardless, my praise for Mr. Musk. He has shown once again that he's the rare type who can not only come up with good ideas, but also actually implement them.
Q-Star
3.9 / 5 (7) Aug 12, 2013
Regardless, my praise for Mr. Musk. He has shown once again that he's the rare type who can not only come up with good ideas, but also actually implement them.


I am not well versed in engineering of this sort, but even if the thing only worked half as well, an hour from LA to San Francisco, it still sounds great. And much good engineering technique to be gained too. Kudos, I hope it goes forward.
gopher65
5 / 5 (6) Aug 12, 2013
...but even if the thing only worked half as well...

That's the funny thing, isn't it. Even if they can only make it go half as fast as Musk envisions, it will still be way faster than the bullet train they're trying to build right now. And even if it cost 8 times as much as Musk claims it would still be half the price of the aforementioned train:P.

If California doesn't build this, they're stupid.
Roland
1 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2013
Building these tubes won't be easy. They are the equivalent of a submarine that can descend to 33 feet of water, absolute minimum, but the submarine will be many miles long! That is not a trivial problem. Withstanding internal pressure is easy, withstanding external pressure is very hard. And the tube equivalent of railroad switches will be an engineering nightmare. That's before considering propulsion, life support, fire/rescue, etc.
Sanescience
2 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2013
Better be a tube encased in concrete to protect against the human idiot factor. Think of how many transformers get shot by guns.

Normal pressure and slower speed might give a better cost in maintenance ratio.

Being able to ride in your car would be a game changer.

Haven't seen thermal considerations yet. All kinds of subtle tolerance issues with inside and outside temperature gradients.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2013
It sounds like a very interesting concept. Couple of caveats, though:

an hour from LA to San Francisco, it still sounds great

As with any transportation mode that requires major construction it's questionable whether one would be able to build this so it could go to any place central within LA or San Francisco. (Read: Air-port like infrastructure and then a commute to/from city centers need to be added)

It looks like this will not accomodate the average american body type (and stowing room for baggage - needed for larger travel distances - seems limited)

But it's a bold new concept. And if the US needs anything at the moment it's bold new concepts to inspire people.

If California doesn't build this, they're stupid.

Needs a test track first (unlike bullet trains, which are a tried concept). You don't build something of that scale based on untested technology.
Pressure2
1 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2013
I am not sold on this concept yet. I think a simpler and more practical system would be to build an elevated hanging monorail train system. This system could be built above existing train tracks or beside and in between the existing interstate highways. This method could avoid all intersections and wild animals that might roam onto a ground based high speed train track.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2013


Hanging monorails aren't fast.
Maglevs can be very fast, but are very loud (and a good deal more expensive to operate than they look at first glance). They also create considerable EM radiation - so you have to site the path well away from anything.

Then there's the large footprint of the track. Originally it was planned to have this drive into downtown Munich and Berlin. But when they saw what kind of a corridor they'd have had to cut through the city they quickly abandoned that idea.

Siemens tried that in germany for well over a decade and finally scrapped the idea (sold it to the chinese who are now building it in China, though).

Also maglevs aren't suitable for bulk cargo transport - which is often a requirement when building any kind of transport system.
Shabs42
not rated yet Aug 13, 2013
I am not sold on this concept yet. I think a simpler and more practical system would be to build an elevated hanging monorail train system. This system could be built above existing train tracks or beside and in between the existing interstate highways. This method could avoid all intersections and wild animals that might roam onto a ground based high speed train track.


The hyperloop is designed to be built over the interstate as is, I think something like 20-30 feet above ground. And good luck getting a monorail to make it from L.A. to the Bay Area in even triple the amount of time the hyperloop could.
RichTheEngineer
3 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2013
This is pretty much maglev in an evacuated tube. Reduces the drag, which reduces power requirements. And it's not a problem building a long tube to withstand 15psi, just look at underwater tunnels at amusement parks, like Disney's.

And it can be elevated, nobody said it had to be ground level.
Shabs42
not rated yet Aug 13, 2013
As with any transportation mode that requires major construction it's questionable whether one would be able to build this so it could go to any place central within LA or San Francisco. (Read: Air-port like infrastructure and then a commute to/from city centers need to be added)


I guess it depends on the infrastructure needed at the stations, but if it is built right above/along I-5, I would think there would be a reasonable location somewhere in both cities. I've only been to each city a couple times, so I really don't know.

My biggest concern with it from a non-scientific view is what could a stupid person do? The tube is supposed to be an inch thick, is that enough to stop a bullet? If not, what would happen to the people inside the loop if the near-vacuum is breached? What would the repair times be like if this happened?
RichTheEngineer
not rated yet Aug 13, 2013
Demonstrator would probably be small diameter, but there is no reason you couldn't build it to handle existing modular freight containers. Instead of stacking 'em on a ship, just load them on carriers and blast 'em through the tunnel.

You naysayers should be ashamed of yourselves. All you can do is come up with "reasons" why it won't work, when you are just trying to protect your own "sacred cows".
RichTheEngineer
1 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2013
What would happen if breached? Might slow down traffic in that immediate section until a crew could come slap a patch on it. It would have to be a pretty substantial breach to have much of an effect in a short time frame.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2013
Demonstrator would probably be small diameter, but there is no reason you couldn't build it to handle existing modular freight containers

If I read the proposal right then diameter is a major issue (it doesn't easily scale up to larger diameters). That's why he proposed a 28 passenger limit per shot. This may not be an issue for some types of material, but for anything more bulky than a human it seems to make construction more difficult/costly.

Then again: Do we need freight travel at 500mph? Or can that not be relegated to dedicated, regular railway systems?

As with any kind of revolutionary transport system: they should spend a few million and build a test track.

What would happen if breached?

Depends on what kind of breach. If it's just a small hole then that won't do much (that will be able to be compensated by the pumps). If we're talking large gash then there's probably all kinds of other problems happening besides rise in pressure.
Pressure2
1 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2013
Is there any reason a monorail train could not travel as fast as a high speed train? As for this tube system, not only is it quite limiting for the amount of passengers it would transport wouldn't there be a lot of engineering problems to overcome at the high speeds envisioned?
Saltpeter
1 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2013
Mr Musk has clearly lost his grip on reality.
Looks like a Pool o' Hype.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 13, 2013
However, I'm also forced to wonder why this hasn't been proposed before, because while it's quite clever, it doesn't reach a level that I would consider totally non-obvious


In 1972, the Rand Corporation did a study to assess the feasibility of a similar system linking major cities at long distances accross the country. Their proposed system would have traveled at an amazing 14,000 mph underground but would have required that the tracks be nearly straight lines, as turns at that speed would cause sickening g-forces. In a low air pressure tube you can go much faster than you would think possible. That would have gotten you from LA to NYC in about 20 minutes.

See the section labled "Historical Precedents" in the graphic on the following page:

http://jalopnik.c...66973247

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Imagine Orlando to Miami in 20 minutes. Theme parks and beaches in the same day, no driving required?
indio007
1 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2013
I don't think steel is a good idea. Resonant destruction would be a real issue not to mention This is like building the Alaskan pipeline all over again.

I would go with a carbon fiber extrusion method.

Coupled with this http://www.gizmag...l/24819/
your good to go.
GSwift7
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2013
For more history on this type of transportation, the following link goes to the wiki page on "Vactrains":

http://en.wikiped...Vactrain

It appears that Robert Goddard, yes the same guy who worked on liquid fueled rockets, was building prototypes of a vactrain way back before 1920 with a grad student. He wanted to build one linking NYC to Boston, which would have gone around 1000 mph. That's before air travel boys and girls. Wow, Goddard was really something. They didn't find his vactube designs until they went through his works after his death.

Does Musk sound a lot like Goddard reincarnated, or what? Rockets and vactubes? wow.

As for constructing the tubes, the plan is to use concrete if they build it above ground. The exterior would probably just look like a rectangular box, rather than visible tubes. This would make the construction methods and equipment as similar to current concrete highway bridge construction as possible. Use off-the-shelf whenever you can, forget CF
axemaster
5 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2013
In a written statement, California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard suggested that Musk was oversimplifying the challenges.

"If and when Mr. Musk pursues his Hyperloop technology, we'll be happy to share our experience about what it really takes to build a project in California, across seismic zones, minimizing impacts on farms, businesses and communities and protecting sensitive environmental areas and species," Richard said.

I'm sure Mr. Richard would find it very difficult to implement something like this...
holoman
1 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2013
No problem, let him use his own money.
Q-Star
3 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2013
I'm sure Mr. Richard would find it very difficult to implement something like this...


I'm wondering how many contracts to deliver materials to the ISS Mr Richards has fulfilled? (And how many miles of High Speed Rail his Authority has in operation in California?)
megmaltese
2 / 5 (8) Aug 14, 2013
I don't like this stuff.
I don't think we need so much fast travel.
The more we have, the more we want.
It's like a mania.
After this, we would capsules going 1500 Km/h, then 3000... everybody blabla about losing contact with nature, then everybody loses more and more contact with nature by himself.
What we have now is enough.
Next step: space.
No need for more speed, need for less pollution.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2013
The more I think about this idea, the more excited I get about it.

Extremely fast travel (if it can be affordable) could open up a lot of business opportunities.

For example, imagine linking tourist areas to urban centers. Or a link between two Universities? Students and teachers could attend both schools. Imagine a large entertainment venue located in the middle of nowhere, far from any city, linked several major cities.

Or, in terms of job markets, you could eliminate the conflict between industrial zones and residential zones. A link between an industrial area, like a port, and residential areas far away could supply a qualified workforce. So, a rural town located far from a city, could have access to jobs hundreds of miles away.

All of that depends on how affordably you can build and operate these things, but it's hard to see how Las Vegas or Orlando wouldn't benefit from building some of these. Any place with a busy airport should be perfect.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2013
The more we have, the more we want.

Says the guy typing on a computer over the interent. You do realize that you have these things because someone said: I want that.

What 'we' want is certainly different from what you want. Some people want some things (like fast travel) and some people don't - but don't make it out like the latter group should dictate what the former should want. (Now when it comes to what each group can HAVE that's a different issue - because everybody pays to some extent for such projects. And this is where democracy comes in.)

A link between an industrial area, like a port, and residential areas far away could supply a qualified workforce.

This one is iffy. The more stops you introduce the more you destroy the advantages of such a system (we're currently in that process in germany of slowing down our high speed railway system to a crawl by stopping at every lamppost)
GSwift7
1 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2013
This one is iffy. The more stops you introduce the more you destroy the advantages of such a system (we're currently in that process in germany of slowing down our high speed railway system to a crawl by stopping at every lamppost)


I was thinking in terms of smaller loops, not stops along the major lines. Lower speeds, fewer passengers per car (smaller cars), shorter distances. Any stretch of highway where you currently have daily traffic jams might be a target for a small vactube system.
Peteri
not rated yet Aug 17, 2013
Sounds like a total nightmare from a passenger safety point of view!

Imagine sitting in one of those cramped capsules for any length of time (e.g. hours) if the propulsion system fails. Also, there's no way to get out in such an emergency - your totally stuck in a partially evacuated miles long narrow tube whilst praying that the capsule following behind you at 700 mph has been stopped by the track management system.

Also consider what a crash at 700 mph in one of those tubes would be like - how do the emergency services reach casualties - assuming any survived and are not just strawberry jam coating the insides of the tube.

I think an injection of common sense is needed to counter all the childish hype surrounding this flawed concept - the project will never get off the ground due to the underlying fundamental safety issues I've touched on above.
zaxxon451
not rated yet Aug 17, 2013
How about we "appropriate" some of Musk's billions to help fix this country's infrastructure instead promoting this dude's hyper-loop ego tube.
vertex
not rated yet Aug 18, 2013

No need for more speed, need for less pollution.


It's completely self powered by solar/lithium ion/compressed air and meets the needs of millions of travelers per year, offsetting many many trains, planes and automobiles. That's quite a bit less pollution. Short of floating there on lily pads, it doesn't get anymore green.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2013
Sounds like a total nightmare from a passenger safety point of view!

Imagine sitting in one of those cramped capsules for any length of time (e.g. hours) if the propulsion system fails.

Geez. I guess that's why no one uses airplanes. At least you get to sit there instead of falling out of the sky.

Also consider what a crash at 700 mph in one of those tubes would be like

Exactly what are you going to crash into? An unexpected bend?

how do the emergency services reach casualties

Like in any other tunnel: Through a door in the side or through either end. If the thing is stopped there is no need to maintain the low pressure, is there?.

I think an injection of common sense is needed

Yep. Next time try some before you post.
Peteri
not rated yet Aug 24, 2013
Geez. I guess that's why no one uses airplanes. At least you get to sit there instead of falling out of the sky.


Point taken However, there's no room to move around and, unless you carry a plastic bottle, no toilet facilities by the looks of it!

Exactly what are you going to crash into? An unexpected bend?


Sudden failure of the front fan system would lead to catastrophic loss of the air cushion causing the vehicle to impact the walls at 700mph. Friction does the rest!

Like in any other tunnel: Through a door in the side or through either end. If the thing is stopped there is no need to maintain the low pressure, is there?.


For maintenance reasons, I can't imagine them having emergency doors any more frequently than one per mile - that's still 0.5 mile maximum through a narrow tube that the rescue services have to negotiate with equipment!

Yep. Next time try some before you post.

Next time, try being less full of yourself!
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 24, 2013
, there's no room to move around and, unless you carry a plastic bottle, no toilet facilities by the looks of it!

How utterly life threatening. Stop the development. Immediately. Someone might piss their pants in an emergency. This technology is doomed I tell you. Doomed!
Sudden failure of the front fan system would lead to catastrophic loss of the air cushion causing the vehicle to impact the walls at 700mph

You're in a tube. Hint: tube. No lateral movement.
For maintenance reasons, I can't imagine them having emergency doors any more frequently than one per mile - that's still 0.5 mile maximum through a narrow tube that the rescue services have to negotiate with equipment!

Like every other train tunnel. What's so different here?
Next time, try being less full of yourself!

Next time try to think before posting crap.

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