The Fifth Mode

Always start with a name. A good name.

We have planes, trains, automobiles and boats. What if there was a fifth mode. I have a name for it, called the Hyperloop.
— Elon Musk

Hyperloop.

Imagine a world where travelling from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes less than 30 minutes. A method of transportation which is meant to be 4 times as fast as a train, and 2 times as fast as a plane. Now imagine this method of transport is available to you as soon as you arrive — no waiting for everyone else to get there. That’s the future that Elon Musk is proposing with his hypothetical high-speed transportation system. Details for this system are extremely thin on the ground. In fact, apart from the name and a few choice quotes (by Musk himself) nothing substantial has been published or released about the concept;

Although Musk was meant to publish a paper on it back in December 2012. That has now been pushed back to the 12th of August 2013, according to this tweet by Musk. The Verge has an interesting article on how they believe the system could potentially work.

However until Musk releases his Alpha design documents, there is no real engineering to review.


The first time Hyperloop was discussed was in this interview on Pandodaily, with Sarah Lacy. Based on the little that has been shared, one might think that Musk’s idea will be akin to something like the ‘tube’ transportation system in Futurama or The Jetsons. Many of the ideas (commercial space travel, commercial electric cars) that Musk discusses could have been taken straight out of science fiction novels. The reason you should take these ideas seriously, is because he makes those ideas a reality.

Musk’s idea doesn’t appear to be completely unique (as opposed to the science fictious world). Joelle Renstrom, (who teachs at Boston University) has a good breakdown of the realities of this technology. One such reality is the Aeromovel. The other is the Evacuated Tube Transport a system that has been proposed by the ET3 consortium. The main question is therefore how does his proposed system differ.

As if the potential of this idea wasn’t intriguing enough; the way that Musk’s idea could become a reality is equally as intriguing.

I’m considering just open-sourcing. Describing the idea, saying this is what would be done, if someone wants to do it then they could do it. Maybe I should patent it and open-source the patent to anyone who can make a credible case that they can do it.
— Elon Musk

I think it’s safe to acknowledge that Elon Musk sees the world in a different way to most people. Probably one of the best articles I’ve read about him, is unsurprisingly on Bloomberg. Between commercial space travel, electric cars and pneumatic transportation, he is building the future that we were expecting. The future we dreamed we would be living in, when we got older.


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