Futuristic People-Mover Resembles a Century-Old Design

Courtesy Elon Musk / Tesla Motors.

Remember Elon Musk's futuristic people-mover we looked into a few weeks ago? The one he's calling Hyperloop, and that seemed bound to borrow heavily from the likes of Robert Goddard's circa 1910 evacuated tube Vactrain system and R.M. Salter's magnet-operated Very High Speed Transit from 1972? That's the one. Musk had been keeping the details a secret but he made them public in a blog post on Monday.

Basically, it's a system by which specialized pods would run through two parallel tubes placed along the median of Interstate Highway 5, in which people could make the journey between San Francisco and Los Angeles in about 35 minutes. Instead of booking a flight or catching a train, the pods would leave every 30 seconds or so, and you'd just line up and get on. Possibly even with your car.

Yes, the thing does harken back to those earlier concepts mentioned above, but Musk's new version includes a few tweaks he thinks will make it viable: First, instead of a vacuum as with the Vactrain, Musk envisions his tube-transit system as maintaining a low pressure, but one at which industrial-sized pumps could maintain. Second, instead of magnetic levitation as with the VHST, his idea is to have the cars run on "skis" floating on cushions of air, a bit like an air hockey table. Magnetic accelerators would bring the pods up to their high-subsonic speeds.

Musk intends the idea as an alternative to California's high-speed rail, which he's long criticized as too expensive and too slow. Hyperloop is technically possible and economically viable, he says. But he's not willing to go so far as to build it. "I wish I had not mentioned it," he told Bloomberg Businessweek. "I still have to run SpaceX and Tesla, and it’s f*ck**g hard." He's happy to support anyone who'd like to try to bring the technology to life, he says. Any futuristic industrial types out there looking for their next big project?