Elon Musk’s Hyperloop dream is coming true

But not by his hand.


Back in 2013, Elon Musk revealed plans for a superfast transport technology called Hyperloop that could get you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 30 minutes, and costs just a fraction (“under US$6 billion”) of the budget approved to build the bullet train between San Diego and San Francisco (US$70 billion).

The Hyperloop idea was concocted by the collective effort of up to 1,000 employees of Tesla and SpaceX, and is essentially travel pods that move inside an elevated tube under low pressure, very much like old-style pneumatic tubes used within a building to send mail and packages. Musk’s original idea is to use fans mounted in front of the pod to push air out of the way, and under the pod to form a cushion on which it could ride. A series of motors along the tube would then propel the pod forward at speeds of up to 800mph, an astounding number considering that the world’s fastest commercial train, the Shanghai maglev train, has a recorded top speed of 311mph. The entire Hyperloop system would, of course, be powered by solar energy (Musk’s other company, SolarCity, comes to mind) so it would be “ultra-clean, ultra safe, affordable, intra-urban travel at super-high speed”, Musk’s own words.

Back in January this year, Musk tweeted that he “Will be building a Hyperloop test track for companies and student teams to test out their pods. Most likely in Texas.” No further news followed this announcement.

But now, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), a company that is unaffiliated with Musk, announced that it has closed a deal to build a five-mile track in California. HTT was founded soon after Musk published his Hyperloop white paper in 2013; the founder, Dirk Ahlborn, also founded an online platform that crowdsources people to participate in community projects, and that is how he gathered engineers from across the States to join HTT, in exchange for stock options.


Back in February, HTT started raising funds through an IPO, with the aim of US$100 million for the construction of the five-mile test track; agreements have been secured for it to be built near Quay Valley, and will begin in 2016 to be completed in 2017.

HTT’s prototype is expected to travel at a range of 200 to 300mph only, though, much slower than Musk’s calculations, but still potentially faster than the planned California High Speed Rail which is supposed to have a top speed of 220mph.

Experts say that the Hyperloop idea is technically feasible, although there are still challenges to overcome; for instance, how to maintain a vacuum in such a large tube with so many entry/exit points, can the tube supported atop pylons withstand the regular earthquakes which California is far too familiar with and what happens if someone shoots a hole in the low-pressure tube?

But for now, what we really want to know is how Elon Musk feels about another party taking his idea and rolling with it further ahead than he is? Pretty pissed, we imagine.


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