The tech world is abuzz in regard to a just-introduced and mighty bold transportation concept: Hyperloop, a large-scale variation on pneumatic tubes used at banks said to hold the potential of transporting people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in thirty minutes.
The notion's booster is Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla electric cars, the SpaceX private space biz, and PayPal. But the idea guy is Daryl Oster, based in Louisville, ,just named America's second best small town. Graphics, videos and more below.
While most of us are just hearing about Hyperloop, Oster has been working on it for years. Indeed, the video seen here, which focuses on what was then called evacuated tube transport, was originally posted in 2009.
The clip's use of footage showing John F. Kennedy challenging the nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the 1960s suggests that Oster initially saw government funding as the best way to pull off such a massive project. Thus far, though, the person most energized by the possibilities encapsulated by Hyperloop is Musk, who's been talking it up for several months. Here's an interview from March....
...while this video dates back to May:
But Hyperloop made the leap from tech-conference chatter to the mainstream due to Musk's idea of posting a document filled with renderings, technical information and more on the Tesla Motors website. Moreover, the data is designated as open source, meaning other innovators are encouraged to contribute to the plans.
Musk hasn't promised to fund the enterprise; it would cost an estimated $60 billion to build the L.A. to S.F. system, intended to prove Hyperloop's workability. But he's happily thumping the drum, as is Oster, who's prominently featured in a fresh CBS News report about "tube travel."
That piece is below. Included with it are a slew of Hyperloop graphics, along with text from the introductory and abstract sections of Musk's document, which is also included in its entirety. Also featured is another video of Oster and his ideas about how we'll get from here to there in the future.
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. 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 unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?
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.
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. This is where things get tricky. At one extreme of the potential solutions is some enlarged version of the old pneumatic tubes used to send mail and packages within and between buildings. You could, in principle, use very powerful fans to push air at high speed through a tube and propel people-sized pods all the way from LA to San Francisco. However, 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 for all practical purposes.
Another extreme is the approach, advocated by Rand and ET3, of drawing a hard or near hard vacuum in the tube and then using an electromagnetic suspension. The problem with this approach is that it is incredibly hard to maintain a near vacuum in a room, let alone 700 miles (round trip) of large tube with dozens of station gateways and thousands of pods entering and exiting every day. All it takes is one leaky seal or a small crack somewhere in the hundreds of miles of tube and the whole system stops working. However, a low pressure (vs. almost no pressure) system set to a level where standard commercial pumps could easily overcome an air leak and the transport pods could handle variable air density would be inherently robust. Unfortunately, this means that there is a non-trivial amount of air in the tube and leads us straight into another problem.
The pods and linear motors are relatively minor expenses compared to the tube itself -- several hundred million dollars at most, compared with several billion dollars for the tube. Even several billion is a low number when compared with several tens of billion proposed for the track of the California rail project.The key advantages of a tube vs. a railway track are that it can be built above the ground on pylons and it can be built in prefabricated sections that are dropped in place and joined with an orbital seam welder. By building it on pylons, you can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land by following alongside the mostly very straight California Interstate 5 highway, with only minor deviations when the highway makes a sharp turn.
Even when the Hyperloop path deviates from the highway, it will cause minimal disruption to farmland roughly comparable to a tree or telephone pole, which farmers deal with all the time. A ground based high speed rail system by comparison needs up to a 100 ft wide swath of dedicated land to build up foundations for both directions, forcing people to travel for several miles just to get to the other side of their property. It is also noisy, with nothing to contain the sound, and needs unsightly protective fencing to prevent animals, people or vehicles from getting on to the track. Risk of derailment is also not to be taken lightly, as demonstrated by several recent fatal train accidents.
A ground based high speed rail system is susceptible to Earthquakes and needs frequent expansion joints to deal with thermal expansion/contraction and subtle, large scale land movement.
By building a system on pylons, where the tube is not rigidly fixed at any point, you can dramatically mitigate Earthquake risk and avoid the need for expansion joints. Tucked away inside each pylon, you could place two adjustable lateral (XY) dampers and one vertical (Z) damper.
These would absorb the small length changes between pylons due to thermal changes, as well as long form subtle height changes. As land slowly settles to a new position over time, the damper neutral position can be adjusted accordingly. A telescoping tube, similar to the boxy ones used to access airplanes at airports would be needed at the end stations to address the cumulative length change of the tube.
Can it really be self-powering? For the full explanation, please see the technical section, but the short answer is that by placing solar panels on top of the tube, the Hyperloop can generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate. This takes into account storing enough energy in battery packs to operate at night and for periods of extended cloudy weather. The energy could also be stored in the form of compressed air that then runs an electric fan in reverse to generate energy, as demonstrated by LightSail.
Existing conventional modes of transportation of people consists of four unique types: rail, road, water, and air. These modes of transport tend to be either relatively slow (i.e., road and water), expensive (i.e., air), or a combination of relatively slow and expensive (i.e., rail). Hyperloop is a new mode of transport that seeks to change this paradigm by being both fast and inexpensive for people and goods. Hyperloop is also unique in that it is an open design concept, similar to Linux. Feedback is desired from the community that can help advance the Hyperloop design and bring it from concept to reality.
Hyperloop consists of a low pressure tube with capsules that are transported at both low and high speeds throughout the length of the tube. The capsules are supported on a cushion of air, featuring pressurized air and aerodynamic lift.
The capsules are accelerated via a magnetic linear accelerator affixed at various stations on the low pressure tube with rotors contained in each capsule. Passengers may enter and exit Hyperloop at stations located either at the ends of the tube, or branches along the tube length.
In this study, the initial route, preliminary design, and logistics of the Hyperloop transportation system have been derived. The system consists of capsules that travel between Los Angeles, California and San Francisco, California. The total trip time is approximately half an hour, with capsules departing as often as every 30 seconds from each terminal and carrying 28 people each. This gives a total of 7.4 million people each way that can be transported each year on Hyperloop. The total cost of Hyperloop in this analysis is under $6 billion USD. Amortizing this capital cost over 20 years and adding daily operational costs gives a total of about $20 USD (in current year dollars) plus operating costs per one-way ticket on the passenger Hyperloop.
Continue for more about the Hyperloop high-speed tube transport system's Colorado roots, including videos and the complete Elon Musk document. Here's a video featuring Daryl Oster that was posted this past February.
Here's a CBS News piece featuring Oster.
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Here's the complete Hyperloop Alpha document. It includes contact information.