Billionaire reveals Hyperloop
supersonic transport system


News: entrepreneur Elon Musk has revealed designs for a supersonic Hyperloop transport system to link Los Angeles and San Francisco in just 30 minutes (+ slideshow).

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system
Hyperloop passenger capsule version cutaway with passengers onboard

Elon Musk, billionaire and founder of Paypal, electric-car firm Tesla Motors and space technology company SpaceX, has revealed designs for Hyperloop - a supersonic Jetsons-style transportation system for California. Travelling at over 700 mph, passengers would sit in a 1.35-metre-wide tube and be blasted through the 382-mile tunnel linking Los Angeles and San Francisco in just 30 minutes.

After months of speculation, Musk revealed plans to use magnets and fans to shoot capsules that float on a cushion of air through a long tube. "Hyperloop is a new mode of transport that seeks to change [a] paradigm by being both fast and inexpensive for people and goods," said Musk in the design study.

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system
Hyperloop passenger capsule version with doors open at the station

In the designs, passenger capsules are transported at high speed through a low pressure tube, elevated over the land between the two cities. "The capsules are accelerated via a magnetic linear accelerator affixed at various stations on the low pressure tube with rotors contained in each capsule," Musk said.

Passengers would not notice the speed and travel by Hyperloop would feel a lot like being in an aeroplane, Musk explains. "It should really feel just super smooth and quiet. And there'd never be any turbulence or anything," he said.

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system
Musk's twin city vision. San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes by Hyperloop

Well-known for electric cars, civilian space travel and a vision for interplanetary evolution and sending humans to Mars, the transportation tycoon says Hyperloop would be twice as fast as an aeroplane, cheaper than a bullet train and completely self-powered. It would be both weather- and earthquake-resistant.

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system
Hyperloop capsule in tube cutaway with attached solar arrays

"If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive," Musk said. "Compared to the alternatives, it should ideally be: safer, faster, lower-cost, more convenient, immune to weather, sustainably self-powering, resistant to earthquakes and not too disruptive to those along the route."

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system

Musk made the announcement via Twitter last night and a full 57 page pdf document detailing his ideas was published shortly after 9.30pm GMT. He held a 30 minute conference shortly after.

The designs for Hyperloop are open source and Musk has asked for feedback from others to advance the design and make it a reality.

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system
Schematic of air bearing skis that support the capsule

The entrepreneur first mentioned Hyperloop in July 2012 and had left amateur designers, engineers and investors to speculate ever since. He described Hyperloop as the "fifth mode of transportation" - the previous four being train, plane, automobile, and boat. "It's not a vacuum tunnel, but a cross between Concorde, a rail-gun and air hockey table," he said at the time.

"The Hyperloop is something that would go effectively faster than the speed of sound. Conceivably you could live in San Fran and work in LA," he added.

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system
Proposed Hyperloop route - San Francisco to LA in 30 minutes

Musk has also said his Hyperloop designs will rival the high-speed train already proposed in the US. "The $60 billion bullet train they’re proposing in California would be the slowest bullet train in the world at the highest cost per mile." he said. "They're going for records in all the wrong ways. The cost of the SF-LA Hyperloop would be in the $6 billion range."

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system
Passenger capsules - 4.43 ft (1.35 m) wide and 6.11 ft (1.10 m) high

Watch a recording of Elon Musk talking about Hyperloop:

Musk's ideas for futuristic transport don't stop there. Speaking online during a Google "Hangout" event with Virgin Group CEO and founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson on Friday, Musk said he has another idea, to rival Concorde - a vertical lift-off supersonic electric passenger jet. He said that he envisaged journeys over 1000 miles long being done in aircraft that would travel faster than the speed of sound.

"If you fly high enough and have the right geometry of plane, you can make the sonic boom no louder than current planes," he said.

Elon Musk with SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk with Falcon 9 rocket. Photo: SpaceX

Musk commented that vertical take-off and landings would mean passengers could land closer to a desired destination - eliminating the need for large airports and long runways. Too busy - with electric car innovations, hovering reusable rockets and passenger flights to Mars - to launch into the vertical jet business just yet, he said: "If somebody doesn't do [it] then maybe, at some point in the future, I will."

See more transport on Dezeen »

Here is the full announcement from SpaceX/Elon Musk:

August 12, 2013
By Elon Musk, Chairman, Product Architect, CEO

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.

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system

The underlying motive for a statewide mass transit system is a good one. It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving. The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidised) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?

If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive. Compared to the alternatives, it should ideally be:

  • Safer
  • Faster
  • Lower cost
  • More convenient
  • Immune to weather
  • Sustainably self-powering
  • Resistant to Earthquakes
  • Not disruptive to those along the route

Is there truly a new mode of transport – a fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats – that meets those criteria and is practical to implement? Many ideas for a system with most of those properties have been proposed and should be acknowledged, reaching as far back as Robert Goddard’s to proposals in recent decades by the Rand Corporation and ET3.

Unfortunately, none of these have panned out. As things stand today, there is not even a short distance demonstration system operating in test pilot mode anywhere in the world, let alone something that is robust enough for public transit. They all possess, it would seem, one or more fatal flaws that prevent them from coming to fruition.

Elon Musk reveals designs for supersonic Hyperloop transport system

Constraining the Problem

The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart. Around that inflection point, I suspect that supersonic air travel ends up being faster and cheaper. With a high enough altitude and the right geometry, the sonic boom noise on the ground would be no louder than current airliners, so that isn't a showstopper. Also, a quiet supersonic plane immediately solves every long distance city pair without the need for a vast new worldwide infrastructure.

However, for a sub several hundred mile journey, having a supersonic plane is rather pointless, as you would spend almost all your time slowly ascending and descending and very little time at cruise speed. In order to go fast, you need to be at high altitude where the air density drops exponentially, as air at sea level becomes as thick as molasses (not literally, but you get the picture) as you approach sonic velocity.

Continue Reading: Hyperloop-Alpha.pdf

  • Would an undesigned and untested concept really be cheaper than current tried and tested technology? I’m sceptical. Perhaps in the long run it’d work out cheaper than air travel (in it’s current guise)? Also, his dismissal of high speed rail is rather glib – I’d still rather take a high speed train over the distances in question. There’s something to be said for a good 3 or 4 hour train journey.

    At any rate it’s good to see some enthusiasm for the improvement of public transport infrastructure and this project should hopefully get people thinking about it more. But the real problems of transport infrastructure are not so much modes, distances and travel times but funding, policy, and political willpower.

    • Concerned Citizen

      I’m sure there are people who would still rather just take a month-long horse and buggy trip, too. But that shouldn’t strangle the rest of us.

  • KKKK

    They might as well develop a teleportation machine.

  • Paul

    It’s been at least two months since Musk was in the international news, perhaps longer. As I recall, that last sighting was with regards to the traveling distance capability of his Tesla electric car.

    The overall PR effect of that incident was slightly negative. A mildly positive PR effect is all that will come of this idea. The balance is restored.

  • Stephen Kelly

    Three Questions: Where will the materials come from for this type of project, as in can they be sources locally?

    Will the magnetism not cause problems in the human body?

    What will the effects of this be on the environment, including radiation from the magnets?

    • 1) I doubt it, but I think that is at best a very minor question for something on this scale.
      2) No? See: Maglev technology. I assume it will be much the same idea.
      3) Magnets don’t emit radiation. If you’re talking about magnetic fields then see above.

    • smack

      Are you for real right now? They wouldn’t really do anything to the human body. They’ve never once been observed to have a particularly positive or negative effect.

      Also, magnets aren’t radioactive? I feel like you should read up on magnets somewhat.

  • Lallo

    The man IS Tony Stark!

  • James Armbruster

    Novel idea but I fear there are going to be some big problems as far as safety goes. Why not trying to perfect the transporter? It works just fine on all the Star Trek movies I’ve seen. And I’ve seen them all.

    • smack

      Teleportation machines in Star Trek work by physically destroying you then making a copy at the other end. Philosophically, are you comfortable with that?

      • Naimit

        Would the repeated obliteration of my body allow me to avoid rush hour traffic in LA? Because if so, I will be first in line for disintegration.

      • Kalum

        No it doesn’t destroy you. It transfers you at quantic level. Not to be confused with replicators that create objects and materials (nothing alive) at a molecular level.

        If that one was the technology used for transporter then it would destroy and rebuild you (but even in Star Trek no computer can store the amount of data for a quantic copy that supports life).

        If you will, transporters are analog while replicators are digital. For transportation/copy philosophy see… spoiler alert…. The Prestige.

        I am such a nerd :P

  • Carlos Garcia

    Good idea and a great innovating mind! With a tenth of a difference in costs comparing to a train and transportation times reduced with 80%, it’s worth a profound look into it due to both the economic and political situation in that country, where a lot of the money for infrastructure disappears. I think it would be a much better option if it proves suitable in a practical mode.

  • Mikey Lynch

    “Hyperloop is a new mode of transport that seeks to change [a] paradigm by being both fast and inexpensive for people and goods,”

    While the term ‘hyperloop’ might be new, this is not a new concept, nor does it qualify as an invention (as other articles describe it). This concept has been around for a very long time, with very little difference in overall structure.

    Also, it should be noted that the bullet-train would not be the slowest in the world, nor the most costly. But it’s very close.

    I give broad support to the hyperloop and, with some design changes (I would need some more personal space on this thing ha), we should begin detailing out the design of this and really “invent” it and implement it.

  • elder

    Where’s the bathroom?

  • Naimit

    My favourite part of this concept – and the reason why I’m sure it will be a huge success – is how eerily similar the horrifyingly claustrophobic “transport tube” is to a sleek, aluminium coffin. It’s like technology and death are now locked in a race to see which one can speed you out of this world the fastest!

    People love races…

    As soon as passengers are interred in their transport coffin, securely strapped down with electric chair-like restraints, the softer, fuzzier face of rigour mortis soon makes itself apparent: after all, it’s not like you’d have room to twitch in your transport coffin anyway, and the limited oxygen supply and tiny, enclosed space insures that one’s inevitable panic attack will always be accompanied by the lathery musk of your fellow prisoner.

    The Hyperloop combines all of the most wonderful aspects of public transport in one platform, and then compacts of all these pluses into a warm, welcoming metal and plastic crypt complete with a dim, watery light at the end of the tunnel.

    Note to Elon Musk and associates: I’m available to write promotional copy for your revolutionary service. I’m a team player, hard worker, and I managed to weave in the word “musk” in the above glittering commercial fairly deftly.

    You’re welcome.

  • Robert Schroeder

    Way to go Elon. This was envisioned in mid 70’s by a toy designer. Check out the Micronaughts – ROCKET TUBES “The transportation system of the future.” Let’s make it so!

  • Mee

    Why do we still have to see those fake, cute “sketchbook” drawings?

  • Ishmael Mokgadi

    California and the USA are very wealthy; they can solve their transportation problems. Oligarch Elon Musk should think of design solutions to pollution and traffic problems in more needy countries.

    • o2generate

      Wealth doesn’t mean problems are thus solved. Saudi Arabia, by your idea of “wealth” should have zero problems, but it’s still a dry desert, with profound water problems. And women have zero rights.

      Traffic problems in “more needy countries” require governments that are transparent and serve the people. In most “needy” countries governments suppress free speech and confiscate funds to enrich the leaders. Their corruption prevents progress.

  • Amy

    In anyone’s opinion what do you think some of the long-run effects will be due to the Hyperloop, if one day someone actually decided to go along and construct the whole plan?

    I came up with some but wanted to hear more ideas from other people. There will be more job opportunities, it will be better for the environment and it will make gasoline become more elastic.