The US isn’t really known for the quality of its public mass transit. While we have trains, planes and buses aplenty, the system is nothing like that offered in Europe. Some parts of the country are better than others, but overall, Americans love their cars more than they love the idea of efficient mass transit.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, believes the US can do better. His vision for the mass transit of the future is called the Hyperloop; a solar-powered, earthquake-safe system that relies on high speed pods zipping through an enclosed tube to move travelers to their destination.
Southern California is one of the few areas in the US in which a car isn’t necessarily the fastest means to get from point A to point B. Traffic jams are common and people routinely make long commutes. The California Rail Authority exists in part to relieve congestion, and has a $68 billion project in the works to provide transport from San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2028. Intentions aside, Musk was not impressed with the plan.
“When the California ‘high speed’ rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too,” writes Musk. “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?”
By way of contrast, Musk claims a Hyperloop line between the same two cities would not only be faster (30 minutes from San Francisco to LA), but less expensive at an estimated $6 billion, and could be finished inside 10 years.
So how does the Hyperloop work? Perhaps the best way to explain the transit system is to envision the pneumatic tubes used by many bank drive-up windows. In place of checks or cash, each pod would be filled with passengers. An enclosed system allows for a high speed vehicle that can ignore weather conditions, while simultaneously providing a platform to gather energy from solar panels to power the works.
Musk says he has no intention of building the Hyperloop himself, but would be willing to cooperate with a prototype system if someone else was willing to take the reins. Possibly in hopes of tempting someone to pick up the project, Musk posted his entire 57-page proposal online.
Below you’ll find a video about the Hyperloop.