5 tubeblocks Elon Musks’ Hyperloop will need to smash

five problems with elon musks hyperloop blocking view

Now that the hyper hype over the Hyperloop has subsided a bit, it’s time to start breathing again and look at the real-world challenges this daring and worthy engineering challenge faces. We’re not saying it’s a bad idea, but seeing as how Elon Musk wants to build it in California, that means his daring objective is going to be up against some bureaucratic friction and other issues it might not find elsewhere.

1. Land use rights are going to be a bitch.

Elon says the Hyperloop could run along the Interstate 5 corridor when possible because it runs pretty straight, it’s essentially settled land, and the tube will ride on elevated pylons, so very little ground work will be needed. Smart, and we agree in principle: It’s not like you can ugly up a freeway any more than it already is. The problems arise when the freeway turns (which it often does) and Hyperloop can’t. Then the Hyperloop is going to have to cross all manner of public and private lands. If I’m Farmer John (or, say, ConAgra John) and some billionaire engineer wants to build his hypertoy across my land, I’m going to demand a pretty penny (and many ongoing pennies) if he wants to sink as much as a light pole in my crops, let alone a bunch of 100-foot tall pylons. Expect the court bills to be more than $6 billion, let alone the $6 billion Elon says will be needed to build it.

Hyperloop tube stretching from Los Angeles to San Francisco2. It’s ugly and blocking up my view.

Two big tubes on 100-foot tall pylons isn’t exactly a high-rise (or is it?), but if you’ve got a half-million dollar view of the Sierra Nevada range out your front door and the ElonTube 9000 is going through the middle of it, prepare for a court battle. Or at least to write some big checks. And while the Hyperloop may be a tech wonder, at its heart it’s a big elevated double tunnel out in the weather. If you’ve ever seen the underside of a freeway overpass, you know it’s not exactly modern art. Wondrous as it might be, once everyone gets over the hyper honeymoon, blight is just blight.

3. Greenie pushback.

The Hyperloop will feature clean, copious dino-free solar power, could even generate excess power, will likely be near-silent in operation while emitting zero emissions. Tree-huggers will be in line early to get tickets, right? Wrong. Prepare for a legal war with the green crowd if a pylon so much as casts a shadow on a wetland, requires the cutting of trees or displaces a single speckled… whatever. California’s enviro crowd is especially rabid and often highly tech-averse, a position that is either backwards or enlightened, depending on how many times you need to loop around from SF to LA per week. Count on having to meet myriad regulations every step of the way, from determining the battery composition, to pylon manufacturing methods, to using bamboo in the seat covers. Leather? Forget it.

Hyperloop-passenger-capsule-version-with-doors-open-at-the-station4. Those are some small spaces in the capsules.

When a friend saw the design drawing for the passenger capsules, her response was automatic: “There’s no way you’re getting me in that small space.” Doll it up all you want with video screens, free Internet or laughing gas, the fact remains passengers will be rocketing down a tube for at least 30 minutes at 700 miles an hour or better while strapped into an updated Apollo space capsule that has a bit more legroom. Where’s the bathroom again? Musk says that Hyperloop travel will be on par with an airliner in terms of motion, but at least on an airliner you can get up, walk the aisles and take a leak. You can also order drinks to take the edge off the fact you’re in a thin metal tube flying through sub-zero freezing cold air six miles above the earth at 500mph and there are zero parachutes on board because if things go terribly wrong, you’re D-O-N-E done. So you want to put folks in a windowless capsule for 30 minutes and have it blast along at speeds just below Mach 1? Sure, the tickets may only cost $20, but for a lot of people, Elon’s gonna need to pay them to take a ride and likely hand out some soma at the boarding gates. I’m down for the ride, but after the Hyperloop images broke out online, this was a sentiment I heard more than once. In a press call, Musk said Hyperloop could scale up to carry cars a la the Chunnel, so at least potty breaks could happen at that size. Build that one.

5. Nothing is crash-proof.

Several times a year, we witness large-scale failures in transportation infrastructure. Planes go down, bridges collapse, trains derail, tour buses filled with clean-living missionaries go careening off cliffs. Gear fails, nothing is foolproof and the fact that Musk detailed plans to “float” the Hyperloop on its pylons to up its resistance to earthquakes shows he recognizes this reality. But the nightmare I keep having is of a wee 3.5 quake shaking the tubes just hard enough to cause the capsules inside to pop out of their high-tolerance tracks and grenade themselves into tiny bits at 700 miles an hour inside a tube. Not pretty.

Elon, I’m a fan and not trying to be a wet blanket; I just respect the physics and political realities. Hyperloop is a grand idea, the kind of thinking and bravado this country has been sorely without for far too long. You say you might build a demonstrator and I hope you do. I’m in line to be one of the first to ride when it’s good to go (book me on the Mars trip as well). But to say this exercise will cost “only” $6 billion to build and $20 one way to ride I think ignores political and market obstacles, especially in the Golden State.

How about Wichita to St. Louis?


From Jay Rock to Saba, these are the 50 best albums of 2018

We've spent the year listening to new albums, digging deep, and culling our master list into 50 favorites. From blockbuster releases to hidden gems, these are the best albums of 2018.

Land Rover’s upcoming high-tech Defender will leave last-gen model in the dust

Land Rover is giving the Defender a full reboot. The original SUV was a rugged machine built to go anywhere. Its replacement will tick those boxes, too, but it will add a dose of technology and luxury.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.

LM Industries’ autonomous shuttles head to Phoenix, Sacramento campuses

LM Industries will deploy Olli low-speed autonomous shuttles at school campuses in Arizona and California as part of its ongoing "fleet challenge," which asks local groups to propose uses for autonomous vehicles.

What’s next for in-car entertainment? Audi believes it knows

Audi is bringing two technologies to CES 2019. The first turns a car -- a luxury sedan, in this case -- into a drive-in movie theater. The second is presented as a new entertainment format that turns the journey into the destination.
Product Review

The all-new 3 Series proves BMW can still build a compelling sport sedan

Seat time in the entry-level BMW 330i ($41,425) and M340i xDrive ($54,995) will test the German automaker’s commitment to driving dynamics, powertrain refinement, and cutting edge technology.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

California wants all-electric public bus fleet on its roads by 2040

California approved a regulation that targets an all-electric public bus fleet for the whole state by 2040. The effect of the full implementation of the regulation is equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the road.

1,000-mph Bloodhound supersonic car project finds a last-minute savior

The Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) project has found a buyer. The project was going to be disbanded after running out of funds, but its assets were purchased by British businessman Ian Warhurst.

Ford’s prototype Quiet Kennel uses noise-canceling tech to keep dogs stress-free

Ford is ending 2018 by venturing into the doghouse market. The company's European division has built a kennel equipped with active noise-canceling technology and soundproof walls that help dogs sleep through fireworks.

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.

The best compact cars pack full-size features in fun-size packages

The best compact cars on the market rival their counterparts in many ways, proving that bigger isn’t always better. Here, we've rounded up some of the better options available, including an SUV and an electric alternative.

Lincoln revives its coolest-ever design feature for limited-edition Continental

The 1961 Lincoln Continental became a design icon thanks to center-opening "coach doors" (also known as "suicide doors"). Lincoln is bringing those doors back for a special edition of the 2019 Continental.