We live in an age of unbelievable technological progress. To a visitor from the distant past, this would surely seem like a utopian age. Yet in many areas of life, things don’t seem to have changed all that much, and transportation is a woeful example of this. The roads are still lined with cars, the skies streaked with airliners. 20th century science fiction foresaw flying cars and teleporters; the 21st century settled for Segways.
Dreams never die, however, and the fantasy of futuristic transportation is very much alive right now as exemplified by a concept called the Hyperloop. While it’s not as mind-shattering as a teleporter or as fun as a personal jetpack, the Hyperloop could revolutionize mass transit, shortening travel times on land and reducing environmental damage in the process.
What is the Hyperloop?
The Hyperloop concept as it is widely known was proposed by billionaire industrialist Elon Musk, CEO of the aerospace firm SpaceX and the guy behind Tesla (as well as, in the last year, a number of public gaffes). It’s a reaction to the California High-Speed Rail System currently under development, a bullet train Musk feels is lackluster (and which, it is alleged, will be one of the most expensive and slow-moving in the world).
A one way trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the Hyperloop could take about 35 minutes.
Musk’s Hyperloop consists of two massive tubes extending from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Pods carrying passengers would travel through the tubes at speeds topping out over 700 mph. Imagine the pneumatic tubes people in The Jetsons use to move around buildings, but on a much bigger scale. For propulsion, magnetic accelerators will be planted along the length of the tube, propelling the pods forward. The tubes would house a low pressure environment, surrounding the pod with a cushion of air that permits the pod to move safely at such high speeds, like a puck gliding over an air hockey table.
Given the tight quarters in the tube, pressure buildup in front of the pod could be a problem. The tube needs a system to keep air from building up in this way. Musk’s design recommends an air compressor on the front of the pod that will move air from the front to the tail, keeping it aloft and preventing pressure building up due to air displacement. A one way trip on the Hyperloop is projected to take about 35 minutes (for comparison, traveling the same distance by car takes roughly six hours).