Tesla’s Elon Musk Envisions 4000MPH ‘Hyperloop’ Vacuum Transportation System

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News Posted: Mon, Jul 15 2013 9:06 AM
Think the future of transportation has us all in flying cars like the Jetsons? Think again. That's not something we're likely to see in our lifetime, however we may witness the completion of several "Hyperloop" transport systems designed to get you from point A to point B at breakneck speeds. This is the dream of Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, who describes Hyperloop as a "cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table."

Alternately, you can think of it as an enclosed tube that's propped way up off the ground. It would use a magnetic levitation system similar to high-speed bullet trains, except passengers would travel in capsules across a surface with almost no friction.


A Colorado company called ET3 (Evacuated Tube Transport) is already working on making Musk's dream a reality by building a similar system and is planning a 3-mile trial run before the end of the year. This is just the beginning of bigger and faster things to come, According to ET3, a six-passenger capsule about the size of an automobile could hit speeds of 4,000 miles per hour on longer distances, such as going across the country or even continents.

ET3
Image Source: ET3

Something like this could make air travel obsolete. A trip from San Francisco to New York could be made in just 45 minutes with an estimated cost of $100 per passenger. Not only that, but tubes could be built underwater for international travel. Assuming it proves safe -- really, would you want to experience a crash at 4,000 MPH? -- Hyperloop systems could be the way future generations travel.
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timaeus replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 9:40 AM

Pretty sure you wouldn't feel any pain if you crashed at 4000 mph.

Of course, assuming they aren't putting passengers in pressure suits, and so limit acceleration to 1g, they could only get a max speed of ~335 mi/hr with that 3 mile test run. Wonder how they plan to show they can safely travel at 4000 miles/hour.

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It's not the pain that's potentially concerning, but the zero chance of survival versus plane, train, and automobile crashes.

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I would guess the same thing on pressurized suits, but I would also guess they could pressurize the whole capsule/cabin and eliminate the need for suits.

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JDiaz replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 1:08 PM

This differs from a typical maglev train system in that the transportation tubes are kept in a vacuum and thus there is no air friction/resistance, in addition to the no resistance from the tracks because the train is magnetically levitated and accelerated.

So it's almost akin to accelerating something in space... there's very little keeping it from achieving extremely fast velocities aside from simple momentum physics...

While a typical person can withstand up to 5 G's before losing consciousness... A G-Suite and training can raise that to 9 G's for at least short periods... Besides, early tests would probably be unmanned and just need to test the physics and reliability of the technology!

Though, once it goes commercial... they'd probably limit it to 1G for comfort but over thousand of miles they can still accelerate to extremely fast speeds and the higher G tests would at least tell how fast it can brake as well as accelerate, in case of emergencies...

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JDiaz replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 1:14 PM

I wouldn't say there was zero chance of survival... unlike a train a maglev can't derail and emergency systems on the train itself can avoid issues like power failure and provide a emergency stop system... Working in a vacuum for the tube also means full life support systems... So as long as their is power then people can survive even if trapped under water.

While sudden stops will likely be lethal but same would be true of a train ramming into a mountain or a plane crashing at full speed into a similar unmovable object or another plane.

So, it all depends on what type of accident as to whether it's survivable on any of those transportation options...

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Joel H replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 4:34 PM

I'm not impressed by this. RAND Corporation had it figured out in the early 1970s. The reasons we don't have this kind of system is the same reason we don't have the Concorde any longer -- it's not worth it.

Think about it. When do you *need* to go 1,000 miles an hour? How often is it *so valuable* to get yourself across the country, that you'd pay premium cash to build out and use this system?

We don't fly the Concorde because the high cost of operation wasn't worth the benefit of zipping across the Atlantic. We've known this kind of system can work for a long time, but the bottom line is that for most stuff there's conference calls and Skype. If you have to move faster than 585 miles per hour, yes, this would do the trick, -- but there's still embarkation / dembarkation to consider. It's not as though the TSA wouldn't have security checkpoints in a system this expensive and high tech.

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Dave_HH replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 4:38 PM

I think you're nuts Joel. I think the world is full of affluent people that would pay for this service. Not to mention, I think the point of this service is that it's significantly more efficient than a Concorde, in just about every measurable dimension. If RAND had this figured out and it was manufacturable back then, we would have seen it. Things change, technology evolves, breath in, breath out. Don't be such a doubting Thomas. HA!

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Joel H replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 4:43 PM

http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/papers/2008/P4874.pdf

*ahem*

From Page 15:

"The technical problems associated with VHST are manifold and difficult -- but no scientific breakthroughs are required... "

Page 16, continuing to 17:

"Are there compelling reasons for the VHST? The answer to this is an emphatic yes! We can no longer afford to pollute our skies with heat, chemicals, and noise, nor to carve up our wilderness and arable land for new surface routes. Nor can we afford the extravagant waste of limited fossil fuels."

They discuss startup costs, necessary technological advances, political support, and a number of other factors.

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Dave_HH replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 5:01 PM

Dude... I'm going to just STOP on the first page. This document is dated 1972! Hello? It's called technology. Crazy, wild things happen all the time that sound like science fiction. Let's see...

Laser Guns - Buck Rogers, The Jetsons - Reality today

Get Smart Shoe Phone - Reality today

Jetsons Picture Phone - Reality today

Need I go on?

And start-up costs, political support etc are very different today too, versus 1972. Sheesh!

Scotty, beam me up - there's no intelligent life down here.

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Joel H replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 9:02 PM

My point was, the technology and capability of such a system was considered, fleshed out, and *advocated* for adoption in 1972. That's why I'm not impressed. :P We could have had what Musk is suggesting by the late 1970s. Nor is that unusual.

Think about it. When was the Shuttle designed and built? 1972 - 1981. When was the replaceme...oh, right. Still working on that. The International Space Station is a slimmed down version of Space Station Freedom, which was designed in the early to mid-1980s. The Concorde first flew in the early 1980s. Today? Retired. No replacement. The SR-71 still holds the record for the fastest manned aircraft to ever fly. When was it built? 1968. The F-14 (retired) hit Mach 2.67. The F-15 (built in the 1970s) can hit Mach 2.5. 

The F-22 tops out at Mach 1.6. The F-35 can do about Mach 2. 

My point is not that there have been no technological advances since the 1970s, but that when it comes to making things go really, really, really fast, we had this figured out 40 years ago. We knew how to build what Musk is talking about then.

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ajm531 replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 11:30 PM

Soooooo no one else but me is hoping that this leads to the futurama style tubes that everyone travels by??? no just me.... But seriously this sounds awesome. we could get everywhere so fast and yes i want to travel via suction tubes like futurama.

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Dave_HH replied on Mon, Jul 15 2013 11:35 PM

Ahhh.. OK, point taken. But we didn't have a dude with a name like "MUSK" to champion the cause! LOL.. I kid of course.

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Joel H replied on Tue, Jul 16 2013 2:08 AM

I would love to see this lead to crazy-fast technological travel. The reason I'm dubious is because over the past few decades, we've made a lot of decisions that meant traveling slower. For example: The hub and spoke model adopted after de-regulation is more efficient for moving passengers, but it's also slower. Passengers responded to these changes by preferring cheaper flights, even if they took longer.

http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch3en/conc3en/hubspokederegulation.html

The Concorde went out of service without a replacement because we prioritized slower travel over faster travel. The premium of a Concorde flight wasn't seen as worth it. Newer jets prioritize fuel economy over raw speed. Our cars haven't gotten much faster, in general, because we've put the increased power in other places.

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JDiaz replied on Tue, Jul 16 2013 4:16 PM

I disagree, many of those decisions were based on what would be more practical and economical but this idea would be both!

Aside from the engineering hurdle of setting the system up, it would be cheaper per passenger than the airlines, it would be completely immune to the weather, it would be completely silent because there would be no air in the tubes or any friction during travel, and unlike the 70's there's a growing need for such a system.

Traditional transportation options are getting less affordable, the need to commute to work, etc. is increasing in many area of the country as jobs are harder to find and get to. The aging metro railways are getting harder to maintain and the country really needs to develop more to keep up with other nations that are developing bullet trains, etc.

Besides, improvements in speed aren't always straight forward but they do still happen...

Take some of your examples for instance... A F-22 may only be able to go up to Mach 1.6 but it does so with Super Cruise, which means without Afterburners and on engine power alone. A F-14D in comparison could only reach Mach 1.1 without afterburners!

While there are other reasons why top speeds haven't been exceeded yet, like modern jet fighters don't all have the same combat role as they used to... F-22 will strike with much longer range weapons than a F-14, and the F-22 is also more maneuverable, as well as relies more on stealth!

Stealth especially is a factor because previous stealth fighters were sub-sonic but now they can be super sonic...

So basically, they went with what was more practical... but that doesn't mean things didn't improve... Even though what's more practical depends on both what can be done with existing technology and what is the easiest application of that technology.

The Concord for example was deemed not worth it because the application was not very practical... Super sonic crafts are not allowed over populated areas and thus the Concord could only travel over the ocean and thus had a limited number of destination and thus limited usefulness. While the technology at the time limited how large it could be and so carried much fewer passengers than sub-sonic airlines could...

The Airbus, etc plane designs are all for maximizing the number of passengers that can be transported at one time and overall that means a lot more people get moved than the Concord could ever manage.

Sure, the Concord could have gotten to and from a destination quicker but if you needed to move the same number of passengers as a much larger aircraft could carry then that speed is negated by the need for multiple trips and could even take longer than the slower aircraft because of it!

While they never stopped developing faster ways to travel... work has continued since Concord to come up with designs that could offer super sonic travel time but try to eliminate the extreme noise of super sonic flight so such a plane could operate over populated areas and thus be much more practical than the Concord, as well as still manage to carry a large number of passengers.

Both the military and NASA as well, working on technology like RAM/SCRAM jets and setting new speed records as they perfect the technology that could one day be used to allow aircrafts to travel anywhere in the world within a hour with near escape velocity speeds.

While the private sector has finally started to get into the space race, something that similarly seemed like a distant possibility back in the 70's, but like this VSHT idea was something that eventually became reality...

So it may finally be time... only thing to still be reserved about is how long before we can catch a ride... It could be well over a decade, or even decades, before we see a viable VSHT network established and servicing most destinations but they have to start somewhere and that's all it really needs to get started... Even the old railroad wasn't built in a day after all...

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