Lately, Elon Musk seems to be challenging every preconceived notion of transportation. First, he took the auto industry by storm when he introduced the electric-powered Tesla Roadster and later the all-electric Model S sedan, dubbed the "automobile of the year" by Automobile Magazine, as well as Motor Trend. Then his company SpaceX became the first privately owned company to send cargo to the International Space Station.
Now, he is aiming to change the way we travel from city to city, and potentially around the globe, through a scheme that could cut down the travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco to about thirty minutes.
He calls the idea Hyperloop, describing it as a "cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table," at the D11 Conference in May.
"How would you like something that can never crash? It is immune to weather...it goes about, let's say, an average speed of twice what an aircraft would do," Musk told PandoMonthly during a video interview last July. "And it would cost you much less than an air ticket...much less than any other mode of transport because the fundamental entry cost is so much lower. And, I think, we could actually make it self-powering if you put solar panels on it."
Theoretically, Hyperloop tube travel would use magnets much like a bullet trains to take passengers from one destination to another at unheard of speeds. The difference is the enclosed tube, which would allow the capsule to travel without air resistance and very little friction. It is potentially safer, too, than a train that rides on a track with open sides.
The idea has gotten renewed attention after Yahoo! News published additional details earlier this week. Update: Musk revealed via Twitter that he "will publish Hyperloop alpha design" next month.
Will publish Hyperloop alpha design by Aug 12. Critical feedback for improvements would be much appreciated.- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 15, 2013
This idea, however, is hardly a new one.
Business Insider recently pointed to a 1972 report published by the Rand Corporation that details a similar idea. "The general principles are relatively straightforward: electromagnetically levitated and propelled cars in an evacuated tunnel," said the report's author R.M. Slater.
In an article we published last year, we introduced you to ET3.com, Inc., and their vision of tube transport that could theoretically take a traveller from Washington, D.C. to Beijing, China in around 2 hours.
According to ET3 the new tube transportation would be "Networked like freeways, the capsules are automatically routed like Internet traffic, yet a capsule can exit at any desired portal." The idea is that "car sized passenger capsules travel in 1.5m (5') diameter tubes on frictionless maglev...Linear electric motors accelerate the capsules, which then coast through the vacuum for the remainder of the trip using no additional power."
According to Musk, this would cut commute time from San Francisco to L.A. down to a mere 30 minutes, six times faster than current high speed trains, and around half the time of a flight, with (hopefully) much less hassle.
For more information on ET3, listen to this radio interview with the company's founder and CEO Daryl Oster from NPR's The Takeaway:
It may all sound like a "pipe dream," but Musk has increasing credibility with both the science/engineering and Wall Street/private equity communities. Two years ago, many doubted that his Tesla Motors electric-car company would succeed. After the company almost came apart due to management mistakes, quality issues and order fulfillment, Musk got investment from Toyota and a huge U.S. government loan. The company's Model S won the highly coveted Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2012, and the company's shares are trading near it's 52-week high of $133, a huge gain off its 52-week low of $25.52. Orders for the Model S are rolling in and the company is moving toward building a small battery-powered crossover vehicle. Its current market capitalization exceeds both Fiat and Peugeot.
Musk would also have credibility securing government loans for his Hyperloop scheme if he needs it as earlier this month he repaid over $400 million in Department of Energy loans he began receiving in 2010 for Tesla years ahead of time.
TRANSLOGIC Editor Adam Morath and AOL Autos Editor David Kiley contributed to this report.