Elon Musk unveils Hyperloop

Tony Stark is at it again. Oh wait, I mean Elon Musk, the man behind both Space X and electric sports car maker Tesla...oh, and co-founder of PayPal as well. The man needs a hobby. Fortunately he seems to have found one -- if you consider developing supersonic transit a hobby.

Today Musk unveils his initial plans for Hyperloop -- a brand new mode of transport which the entrepreneur describes as a "fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats". The project is a long way from being built, or even completely planned out, but it is fully underway in the initial stages.

The new form of transport was born out of frustration with existing plans: "When the California 'high speed' rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. 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? Note, I am hedging my statement slightly by saying 'one of'. The head of the California high speed rail project called me to complain that it wasn’t the very slowest bullet train nor the very most expensive per mile".

Musk set out to create a better alternative that fulfils several requirements, namely a system that is safer, faster, lower cost, more convenient, immune to weather, sustainably self-powering, resistant to earthquakes and not disruptive to those along the route. A lot to ask for.

"Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment" he says.

While many people are doubtless picturing some sort of pneumatic tube, Musk says that simply wouldn't work. "The friction of a 350 mile long column of air moving at anywhere near sonic velocity against the inside of the tube is so stupendously high that this is impossible".

Though, he has not yet fully fleshed out final plans, his idea involves using magnets and fans to shoot capsules floating on a cushion of air along a tube at high, but sub-sonic, speeds (approximately 760mph/1,220 km/h). He also plans for the Hyperloop to be powered by rechargeable batteries.

There is no real time frame for the project, as it is still early stages. However, you have to believe that if anyone can make this work then it would be Elon Musk. Don't get too excited by the idea just yet though. The entrepreneur says he will likely build a prototype of the concept, but as his time is mostly taken up with SpaceX, the demonstration model could take up to four years to complete.

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