Elon Musk’s Hyperloop would go 700 mph, do LA to San Fran in 30 minutes, and cost 20 bucks

musk details hyperloop high speed transport plans says someone else should build it passenger capsule version cut away
Hyperloop essentials: Capsules would feature reclining seating position, electromagnetic lift, a turbine-like fan at the front to mow through the air in the tube and speeds of 700mph or more.

On Monday, tech wunderkind Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and a driving force at SolarCity, released a PDF  detailing his initial vision of the inner workings of the Hyperloop, a high-speed transportation system inspired by Musk’s disdain for a proposed “high-speed” train line between Los Angeles and San Francisco that would cost tens of billions of dollars and go only 115 miles per hour.

Musk estimated the system could carry 7.4 million people a year at about $20 per one-way ticket. Yes, twenty dollars.

“How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL – doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars – would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?” he asks. Tell us how you really feel Elon. 

Called “Hyperloop Alpha,” Musk envisions a “fifth mode of transportation” (after planes, trains, automobiles, and boats) that travels up to 700 miles per hour and ferries passengers between California’s two major cities – incidentally, a commute Musk makes with some frequency – in just 30 minutes. Oh, and it could cost less than one tenth of what the proposed high speed train would cost. 

What it is, what it does, how it works

The Hyperloop is a (relatively) short distance high-speed transportation system consisting of a pair of enclosed tubes held above the ground on pylons. Inside, small capsules holding passengers would zip though the tubes at near the speed of sound. The tubes are joined at each end to form a “loop.”

According to the Alpha plans, most of the air would be pumped out of the tubes to decrease aerodynamic drag on the capsules but it would not operate in a vacuum, which Musk says is not practical, due to the engineering challenge of building a system completely free from any leaks at any time. Rather, Musk envisions a “low pressure” system with air pumps deployed to keep the pressure even throughout the system. 

The capsules would scoot through the tubes on Linear Induction Motors, which requires some explanation. If you’ve ever pushed two magnets together and felt them push away from each other, that’s the basic principle for levitating and making the capsules move. By amping up the magnetism with electricity and laying out a long line of magnets in the track and along the bottom of the capsules, the capsules can both be levitated and pushed along by the repulsive forces.

The capsules would ride on a magnetic track with rails – not wheels – on the capsules moving in slots to keep things stable, all pushed along by a periodic boost from the repulsing magnets. due to the low drag in the system, Musk said the electromagnetic lifting system would only need to “boost” the capsules every 70 miles or so – or about once a minute.

What would it be like to ride in the Hyperloop? Musk claims it would much like riding in a modern jet on a turbulence-free flight

With capsules traveling up to 700 miles per hour, pressure would naturally build up ahead of them. To deal with this challenge, Musk proposes compressor fans built into the front of the capsules, which would suck the high pressure air under the capsule to lift it and then expel it behind the capsule to help maintain velocity. The release of on-board compressed air would also help keep the capsules “flying” as it were. It’s an elegant solution to the otherwise energy-intensive problem of pushing air out of the way, as the air would serve to both stabilize and propel the capsules rather than stack up against them and slow them down.

Even though the air pressure in the tubes would be low, the capsules would move fast enough to somewhat “fly” along the inside of the tubes, lessening the amount of power need to lift them free of contact. The route would have to be pretty direct as tight turns are not in Hyperloop’s bag of tricks. Musk said any (very, very gradual) turns would not be felt by passengers.

The track tolerances would be tight but Musk says a “combination of the capsule control system and electromagnetic centering forces allows the capsule to safely enter, stay within, and exit such a precise gap.” Because at some point, the train must slow down pull into the station.

Another interesting bit: the Hyperloop tubes would rest atop huge pylons, but would not be fixed the way a freeway overpass is bonded to its supports. That way, if an earthquake hit, their ability to squirm about as the ground shook, coupled with 3-axis motion dampeners, would make the system more earthquake-proof than traditional infrastructure. 

Hyperloop tube stretching from Los Angeles to San Francisco
SF to LA in 30 minutes? And for about $20 one way? That’s the vision laid down by Elon Musk for the ‘Hyperloop’ high-speed transportation system. The capsules would speed along de-pressurized tubes 100 feet off the ground, suspended by quake-resistant pylons.

What would it be like to ride in the Hyperloop? Musk claims it would much like riding in a modern jet on a turbulence-free flight; there would be no sensation of speed. Since the system is enclosed and elevated, the problems of weather, crossings, land use and malcontents putting things on the track are largely eliminated.

Electrical power for the seemingly sci-fi transport would come from solar panels mounted on the top of the Hyperloop’s twin tubes, although Musk said covering the entire length of the system would actually generate too much power. And at night or in poor sunlight, batteries similar to those used in his Model S electric cars could power the system and then charge up again by day.

This wouldn’t be some tubular Concorde for the well-heeled or wealthy. Musk estimated the system could carry 7.4 million people a year at about $20 per one-way ticket. Yes, twenty dollars.

Planes, Trains and Hyperloops

Hyperloop route from Los Angeles to San Francisco
Musk says unlike a regular rail system, the elevated Hyperloop could largely trace the established Interstate 5 corridor along the San Juaquin Valley. At 700mph, it would be faster than any current airliner.

The plan is not without caveats. Musk said the Hyperloop system is a better fit for shorter distances of 900 miles or less because supersonic transport aircraft would be more economical and faster over longer distances and of course, would not require an infrastructure of tubes. Presumably he’ll be making that available to the masses as soon as he’s done with Tesla. 

Musk said the ideal route for the Hyperloop would be along the relatively straight Interstate 5 corridor through California’s San Juaquin Valley down to Los Angeles. The pylons would be 100 feet high – or about eight-to-10 stories – which makes it likely that someone somewhere along the route would complain about the Hyperloop mucking up their view.

But Musk says any inconveniences of the Hyperloop pale in comparison to a “traditional” high-speed rail line which is subject to weather, is noisy, and takes up huge swaths of land. And, of course, there’s the massive cost of laying down not-even-best-in-class bullet train tracks, which partly got this Hyperloop feedback loop started.

Do I hear $6 billion?

Musk rails at the proposed price of the rail line, which he estimated would actually top $100 billion before completion and would essentially be out of date on arrival – if not before construction – and still fail to trump air travel in terms of cost or convenience. He estimates the SF to LA Hyperloop would cost $6 billion to complete. Even at twice that figure, it would be a bargain and a technical marvel that could lap (literally) the fastest existing trains in the world, which can’t even sniff at 400 mph. 

Musk says he wants the Hyperloop to be open-source so other smart people can improve it and add new ideas. In a press conference Monday, he essentially said he wants someone else to build it because, basically, he’s too busy now with Tesla and SpaceX. But the longer he talked about the project, the more he appeared to talk himself into being involved. “I’m tempted to at least make a demonstration prototype,” he said, before adding that he could be involved with the initial phases of the project. “I think I’ll probably end up doing that.”

Successfully building the Hyperloop on any scale near what Musk is proposing would leapfrog every other high-speed transportation system in the world and he claims it could be done in seven to 10 years time.

What do you think of the Hyperloop idea? Tell us in comments.

Cars

It’s not easy being green. Why EVs have a long road to replace gas vehicles

Electric vehicles are all the rage right now, but are they really better than your average gas-powered car? We take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the technology, and whether or not they're ready for mass adoption.
Cars

Florida allows autonomous cars to drive on its roads without human supervision

Florida governor Ron DeSantis passed a law that establishes a legal framework for self-driving cars to operate within the state. It allows car and tech companies to test self-driving cars without a human operator behind the wheel.
Cars

New Toyota tech will automatically shut off engines, apply parking brakes

Toyota is launching two new safety features for the 2020 model year. One will automatically shut off a car's engine when stationary, and the other will automatically shift into park and apply the parking brake to prevent rollaways.
Cars

Aston Martin will put its Valkyrie hybrid hypercar to the ultimate test

The Aston Martin Valkyrie will race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021. Aston Martin is taking advantage of new rules that encourage automakers to bring their fastest hypercars to the legendary French race.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.
Outdoors

The best smart helmets are full of cool tech, and totally worth the messy hair

Helmets might be a haircut's worst nightmare, but they're constantly evolving, and have undergone a 21st-century makeover. No matter your sport, here are the best smart helmets currently on the market.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Plant-based shoes and a ukulele learning aid

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!
Cars

Kia draws inspiration from Greek mythology to create a crossover for millennials

Kia will expand its global portfolio of crossovers and SUVs when it unveils a model named Seltos on June 20, 2019. Developed for milennials, the Seltos is a small, high-tech model named after the son of Hercules.
Cars

Don’t let the SUV bodies fool you, BMW’s X3 M and X4 M are bona fide M cars

BMW is launching the first M versions of its X3 and X4. The 2020 X3 M and X4 M Competition pack a new 503-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six and BMW’s usual array of performance tech.
Cars

After years of Le Mans misfortune, Toyota becomes impossible to beat

Toyota scored a one-two finish at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans, its second win a row at the legendary French race. Toyota is the first Japanese automaker to win Le Mans twice, but its wins came without any real competition.
Cars

Uber drivers reportedly triggering higher fares through Surge Club

Uber drivers are reportedly participating in a so-called Surge Club to artificially trigger higher fares. Many drivers said that they do not want to join the shady practice, but they are forced to do so due to pay cuts.
Cars

Intel hates that your car is dumber than your phone. Here’s how they’ll fix it

Motorists are often underwhelmed and/or frustrated with their car's native infotainment system, so millions of them rely on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Intel is helping Google and Volvo change that by bringing phone-like tech to the…
Cars

Fisker wants to make sure Tesla’s Model Y isn’t in a class of one when it lands

Fisker Inc. plans to launch an electric SUV with a base price of under $40,000, and a range of around 300 miles in 2021. The unnamed vehicle could compete with the Tesla Model Y, if it ever gets into production.
Cars

Could a high-performance Nissan Leaf steal the mighty GT-R’s lunch money?

Nissan developed the electric Leaf with range and practicality in mind, but the hatchback could lend its hardware to a high-performance flagship. One of Nissan's chief executives announced a four-motor, 850-hp model could arrive during the…