The Hyperloop: brilliant or mad?

Ever heard of Elon Musk? He is a South African middle-aged business magnate who invents ultramodern mobility solutions in California. He co-founded PayPal and currently is the CEO of Tesla Motors (among others). When Mr. Musk is not kept busy by the daily affairs of his business empire, he starts pondering over the world, life, and space. In short: he comes up with ideas that aim at nothing else but radically changing the way we do things. After he took payment to the digital world and co-engineered the first attractive electric cars, his latest endeavour is to revolutionize on-land travel. The name of the project is Hyperloop, which according to Mr. Musk can be implemented at around six billion dollars or less.

Fast, faster, Hyperloop

In its very basic terms, the Hyperloop can be envisioned as the next generation high-speed train. Imagine a pipe running above ground from Los Angeles to San Francisco. People travel through the pipe inside so-called capsules that are initially nudged by electric engines. However, once a certain speed has been reached, the capsules start hovering through the pipes thanks to a difference in atmospheric pressure between the inside of the tube and the inside of the capsules.[1] Hence, one of the most spectacular features of the Hyperloop is the lack of drag or resistance each capsule experiences while moving half a millimetre (!) above ground. The total length of such a capsule will be around 30 metres with a capacity of 28 passengers. However, the main reason why Musk’s idea is getting so much attention is the extraordinary speed by which people could travel. According to Musk’s calculations, the trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco would only take 35 minutes with the Hyperloop, which can reach speeds of more than 1,200km/h. Cleverly, large photovoltaic panels installed on top of the pipe would power the electric engines that give the first push. The excess electricity produced would in turn be sold to cover operating costs. It’s said to be fast, space-efficient, and green.

It’s up to California

It is difficult to judge whether the Hyperloop should be made or not. There are valid arguments for both pro and contra. A weak point, for example, is that there isn’t even a prototype yet. All that has been developed is a theoretical, software-based concept, which has received both positive and negative reviews. Critics say that Mr. Musk’s budget proposal of six billion dollars to fully implement the idea comes close to madness.[2] Some experts say that it will cost at least sixty billion dollars to get the Hyperloop floating. Surely, safety issues will pose problems: Musk’s idea incorporates technology that has never been implemented before. On the other hand, some experts have highlighted the brilliance of Musk’s proposal and confirmed that it could be made at six billion. [3] While debates continue to go on, California is in great need for a better transport connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The government has now revealed plans for a high-speed train connection. However, this train will not only cost ten times more than the Hyperloop, but will also be much slower. If there is one place where crazy ideas meet deep-pocketed investors ready to change the world then it must be California. The Hyperloop would ring in a new age in mobility technology. The speed, price, and particularly environmentally friendly aspects all speak for itself and thus California should take on its legacy and build it.

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