Technology

Elon Musk unveils his plans for the Hyperloop

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
A glimpse at the slope-fronted capsules of the Hyperloop. Image: Tesla Motors

A glimpse at the slope-fronted capsules of the Hyperloop. Image: Tesla Motors

In his TED2013 talk, Robert Gordon points out that in 1900, human beings could only travel as fast as a horse could pull them in a buggy, but by 1960, we could travel at 80% of the speed of sound, thanks to the Boeing 707. Since 1960, though, the needle on how fast we can travel hasn’t moved at all. But this could change.

Elon Musk: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity ...Elon Musk: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity ...Just now, fellow TED2013 speaker Elon Musk unveiled more details of his much-discussed blue-sky idea: the Hyperloop, a system to carry passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco, 382 miles or 615 km, in about 35 minutes — less than half the time it takes to fly between the two cities. While early rumors suggested the Hyperloop might connect Los Angeles and New York, and even New York and China, the alpha plans of the highly speculative system are focused in California, as a provocative response to a $68.4 billion high-speed rail plan to connect the state’s two largest coastal cities. As specced, that high-speed rail system would be only slightly cheaper than flying — and would take about twice as long, at 2 hours, 40 minutes. (Of course, right now, the train between Oakland and Los Angeles takes a cool 12 hours, 10 minutes.)

Musk’s Hyperloop is an aboveground system — long tubes set atop pylons — that could run alongside highways. The system would run capsules that hold 28 passengers each through the tubes, departing every two minutes. These capsules contain compressor fans in their nose that form a cushion of air underneath them.

“Wheels don’t work very well at [700 mph], but a cushion of air does,” the plans read. “Air bearings, which use the same basic principle as an air hockey table, have been demonstrated to work at speeds of Mach 1.1 with very low friction.”

A look at what the Hyperloop's above-ground tubes will look like. Image: Tesla Motors.

A look at what the Hyperloop’s above-ground tubes will look like. Image: Tesla Motors.

Building the Hyperloop would cost about $6 billion — a fraction of the proposed high-speed rail system. A ticket on the Hyperloop would cost $20, far trumping both airfare and the price of gas for the same car trip.

“It’s like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland,” Musk tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “Unlike an airplane, it is not subject to turbulence, so there are no sudden movements. It would feel supersmooth.”

Musk, who says that publishing the plans required an “all nighter” from his team, is the mind behind Paypal, the all-electric car Tesla and SpaceX, the first commercial company offering travel to space. And he’s making it very clear: He’s not going to be the one starting or running Hyperloop. “I’m just putting this out there as an open-source design,” he tells Businessweek.

That said, Musk has mentioned the Hyperloop — the inspiration for which we can only hope was taken from this absurdist piece on the Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel – several times over the past year. In May, he teased that the Hyperloop would be a “cross between the Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.” He wrote on Twitter soon after that he would unveil the full plans today.

Chris Anderson interviews Elon Musk at TED2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Chris Anderson interviews Elon Musk at TED2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

On the TED2013 stage, Musk sat down for an interview with our own Chris Anderson, who marveled at the wide variety of ventures that Musk has embarked on.

“My theory is that you have an ability to think at a system level that pulls together design, technology and business … and [to] feel so damn confident in that clicked-together package that you take crazy risks. You bet your fortune on it,” said Anderson. “Could we have some of that secret sauce? Can we put it into our education system?”

Read the full plans for the Hyperloop here »

Comments (21)

  • commented on Nov 17 2013

    Reblogged this on donniebishop.

  • Tony Alvarado commented on Sep 26 2013

    The Hyperloop looks to be an exciting option for fast distance traveling, but similar to current public transportation options like San Jose’s light rail system or Caltrain, it relies on the public to travel to and from specific destinations. Our BiModal Glideway would be a better solution as it would provide the same high speed distance travel, but allow drivers the freedom to go from door to door during their commute.

  • commented on Aug 27 2013

    Reblogged this on AP Environmental Science.

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  • Fahad Zaki commented on Aug 13 2013

    I see that the PDF file is not downloadable.
    — Download it from Spacex’s website –
    http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/hyperloop_alpha-20130812.pdf

    You’re welcome :)

  • Pingback: Elon Musk unveils his plans for the Hyperloop | TED Blog | Hyperloop Pictures

  • Hans Dirkse commented on Aug 13 2013

    The PDF doesn’t open due to password protection…

  • Matt K commented on Aug 12 2013

    More Open Innovation for BIG (Basic Income Guarantee)!!

    Lets do it with all technologies connected to energy supply, housing and mobility.

  • commented on Aug 12 2013

    Reblogged this on Carolina Mountain Blue and commented:
    Say whatever you want about Elon Musk, but unlike a lot of people in this country, at least he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is in terms of big-thinking and big ideas.

  • Paul McKeon commented on Aug 12 2013

    Wow. I’m getting old. Even the speed of light is slower than I remember.

  • commented on Aug 12 2013

    Reblogged this on JGeekz.

  • John H commented on Aug 12 2013

    80 percent of the speed of light in a Boing 707? That’s pretty amazing right there. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say 80 percent of the speed of SOUND? :-)

    • Kate Torgovnick May commented on Aug 12 2013

      Oh dear—that is very much what I meant. Thanks for pointing out the error. It has been corrected.

  • Lucas Hershey commented on Aug 12 2013

    Oh wow, I didn’t know the Boeing 707 could get us to 80% of the speed of light. They must have gotten that technology from the Roswell incident and then implemented the technology into the 707 and then decommissiond them and then used one of those men in black things to erase everyone’s minds of it ever existing… Or maybe by speed of light you mean speed of sound lol.

  • Tim Haugen commented on Aug 12 2013

    The article states, “by 1960, we could travel at 80 percent the speed of light, thanks to the Boeing 707.” Really? I think this is somewhat optimistic, given that 80% of the speed of light would enable us to circle the globe about 6 times a second. Maybe you really mean, the speed of sound?…

  • Kevin Hardesty commented on Aug 12 2013

    I’m pretty sure the Boeing 707 doesn’t go 80% the speed of light.

    • Fremen DeRuvo commented on Aug 12 2013

      Yeah I think they meant speed of sound

  • Lisa Chesser commented on Aug 12 2013

    What a dream come true! I visit LA every summer and San Francisco is it’s beautiful alter ego. I love both places.

    • commented on Aug 12 2013

      Not true quite yet Lisa I’m afraid, still simply a dream. It needs someone whose imagination is matched by their bank balance, like Mr Musk, to step up and champion the idea.