Musk unveiled his vision for the Hyperloop transportation system online today (Aug. 12), saying that it could rocket passenger-packed pods through long tubes at 760 mph or so (1,220 km/h) using energy derived from the sun.
The technology could cut the Los Angeles-San Francisco travel time to 30 minutes and would be ideal for such medium-distance jaunts, said Musk, who heads the private spaceflight company SpaceX and the electric-car firm Tesla.
"The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high-traffic city pairs that are less than about 1,500 km or 900 miles apart," Musk wrote in a description of the concept published online today. “Around that inflection point, I suspect that supersonic air travel ends up being faster and cheaper.”
The Hyperloop would accelerate pods — each about 6.5 feet (2 meters) wide — through a low-pressure tube from Point A to Point B. These pods would ride not on rails or wheels but rather a cushion of air, greatly reducing the friction of the system.
"It would actually be a lot like traveling in anairplane,”Elon Musktold reporters during a conference call today. “There’d be initial acceleration, and once you’retraveling at speed, you wouldn’t really notice the speed at all.”
The pods would be revved up to near-supersonic speeds by linear electric motors like those used by Tesla. But the ultimate source of energy for the system would be the sun.
"There’s actually way more surface area on the top of the tube [for solar panels] than you really need," Musk said.
Musk envisions the Hyperloop as an alternative to California’s proposed $70 billion high-speed rail system, which he regards as too expensive, inefficient and slow. He thinks a Los Angeles-San Francisco Hyperloop line could be built for about $6 billion and deliver a much better travel experience to passengers.
Tickets would be much cheaper than seats aboard a train or airplane, for example, and crashes would be extremely rare. “It’s not like it’s going to fall out of the sky, nor can it be really derailed, as a train can,” Musk said.