Imagine if you could traverse between cities that are apart by usually 7-8 hours of drive time, merely in 15-20 minutes. Then you could live in one city and work in another. In Aug, 2015, Elon Musk published a 57 Page White Paper titled, “Hyperloop Alpha.”
Elon musk was highly disappointed when the California state government approved the high-speed rail project. According to Elon, it was, for lack of better words, a dumb move to launch a project that is both expensive/mile and one of the slowest bullet trains. Thus, he proposed the 5th mode of transport, Hyperloop.
What is Hyperloop?
Hyperloop is a proposed concept for a high-speed transportation system, that incorporates pressurized capsules hovering inside reduced pressure tubes that are mounted on top of pylons, running almost parallel to the interstate expressways.
Who will make the Hyperloop?
The idea of Hyperloop is now bigger than the man himself.
This quote aptly sums up the role that Elon is playing in steering forth the development of the “pipe dream,” Hyperloop. As a result of concerted development and design efforts of a few visionary engineers at Tesla and SpaceX, Elon was able to put together a concept paper for the next generation of transportation. However, he decided to keep it as an open source design, so that other engineers and designers from the around the world could also make their contributions. When asked how difficult it would be to ake this a reality, he says,
“I swear, its not that hard”
What are the biggest challenges?
Ergonomics: Human factor considerations are quite critical in this project. The passengers will feel a great amount of thrust in the pressurized cabins and which will, perhaps, not be suitable for kids, senior citizens or individuals with heart ailments. How do you make the user experience better than the current best experience?
Economic Consideration: Elon and his team did a great job at putting together a concept based on the implementation of some models, but keeping the expenses low while implementing is going to be a tough nut to crack. Also new economic regulations will have to be put in place for this new mode of transportation.
Design: How do you fit humans into those capsules without making them feel claustrophobic, scared and tied up? Design, in this case, is a bigger problem than the technology.
Engineering: How do you make Hyperloop power efficient with zero carbon footprint? And did I add that it has to noise free? Moreover, is it going to be magnetic levitation or wheel?
Safety: What if there is an earthquake and the high-speed capsule pops out of the pipe? We have heard numerous stories of large scale infrastructure failures such as bridges and highways, the pylons are not going to be constructed much differently.
The first major hyperloop event was organized at Texas A&M in Jan, where 120 colleges participated in a design competition to win a unique opportunity to test their design on a 1-mile-long (1.6 km), 1.8-meter-diameter (6 ft) test track being built by Tesla in southern California.
Musk says he doesn’t have the time to develop the hyperloop, and he also says it’s so easy that his interns can develop it. If you are an engineer, I would like to route you to the white paper published by him 2013. It starts with a layman introduction to the concept but quickly scales to detailed mathematical equations and design specifications. Towards the end, Musk has done a financial breakdown of the project showing the economic viability.
Here’s the paper: http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/hyperloop_alpha.pdf
In the end, I’d like to quote Elon Musk, to give a glimpse of the impact of Hyperloop
Hyperloop could transport people, vehicles, and freight between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 35 minutes. Transporting 7.4 million people each way every year and amortizing the cost of $6 billion over 20 years gives a ticket price of $20 for a one-way trip for the passenger version of Hyperloop.