Elon Musk is one of the most notable inventors and trailblazers of our time. Musk’s endeavor, Hyperloop could reshape our idea of transportation. Hyperloop One is a proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation that would propel a pod-like vehicle through a near-vacuum tube at more than airline speed. When Musk was disappointed with California’s “high speed” transportation proposal and approval, he found the Hyperloop to be the best alternative. What if the way we travel looked differently? So differently that the alternative does not even exist, yet. Elon Musk looks beyond the status quo to new possibilities with Hyperloop. From a young age, we have watched media with futuristic travel. Think of Star Wars and cartoons like The Jetson’s– fast, efficient, and convenient transportation that made us think, ‘one day.’ America has long held a futuristic idea towards transportation, but as a country, have not made significant efforts towards these advancements. What if we no longer took airplanes, but hopped on Hyperloop to travel long distances? The saying “time is money” takes on a new meaning when Hyperloop is aiming to take travelers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes at 700 mph.
Hyperloop technology seems promising given that fact that it will cut travel costs and time to various destinations. It will also bring the world that much closer together and that much more accessible for everyone. Our current model of transportation in the United States is not sustainable for the environment. The U.S. lacks structures for longer transportation that is fast, efficient, and most importantly, sustainable.
Hyperloop is a good idea theoretically, but where is it practically in 2017? In 2013, Musk shared his technical thoughts on how Hyperloop could work, and encouraged others to give it a go. This is one example of how true inventors like Musk lead the 21st century. A handful of companies formed to make it happen, but Musk couldn’t stay away for long. In 2015, through SpaceX (Musk’s company that designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft), Musk launched a global competition asking mainly student teams to give it a whirl. The order was to build a practical, safe, scalable, pod—the capsule that will accommodate passengers or cargo through the tube for their hyper journey. The designs judged for safety, innovation, and construction, but most really covet the prize for highest speed reached (with pods safely decelerating, too). “What this was intended to do is encourage innovation in transportation technology,” Musk said on race day. “To get people to do things in a way that isn’t just a repeat of the past.”
In January 30, 2016, the first SpaceX Hyperloop design competition took place. More than 100 designs were submitted, and 27 teams won the chance to test their designs on the SpaceX Hyperloop test track in June 2016. Students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) won the competition. The power of the prototype was impressive, but it lacked space for passenger or even cargo. Future competitions allowed for further advancements.
In January 2017, the long-running SpaceX Hyperloop competition wrapped up with “Competition Weekend I,” in which completed pods raced on the test track. A team from Delft University in the Netherlands took the top prize… “We had our amazing compressor—that thing does its job!” said team lead Mariana Avezum, through happy tears, explaining how her team won. She clasped the award, a slice-through view of an Hyperloop tube in a Perspex box, to her chest. The winning pod reached 60 mph. A long way off from the proposed 700mph alpha prototype.
The next phase is Competition Weekend II, taking place in summer 2017. Teams will come back to the SpaceX test track, with some solid experience under their belts, and some solid refinements to their designs, hopefully ready to set some speed records, and continue their, and Elon Musk’s vision to change the transportation world through inventions. If Musk does not personally spearhead the creation of Hyperloop, he is incentivizing future generation leaders in technology to make advancements and empowering them to think ‘outside of the box’. With each SpaceX competition, an advancement is made. Those following this development are waiting in anticipation for what speed competitors will reach in the summer 2017 competition.
With students and teams working to make Hyperloop a reality, will it debut in the United States, or will a different country put it into action first? Previous Secretary of Transportation Anthony Fox said, “Getting the service is different than generating the ideas and generating the intellectual capital,” We in the U.S., one of our greatest virtues and one of the biggest challenges for us, is that when new transportation technology is introduced, something like Hyperloop, [they] say ‘We want to be first.’ A lot of the time, we say, ‘We want to be safest.’ And I think that’s a good thing for us.” On January 31, 2017 Elaine Cho was made the new Secretary of Transportation. Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will be taking over the Department of Transportation at a crucial time for companies in the auto and tech industries. With the recently changing political landscape this could be an opportunistic time for the auto and tech industry.
At least two other ventures are working on their version of Hyperloop. Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies are in the race to make this new technology work. Hyperloop-One’s website states, “Hyperloop is a new way to move people and things at airline speeds for the price of a bus ticket. It’s on-demand, energy-efficient and safe. Think: broadband for transportation.” Hyperloop Transportation Technologies website says, “Most current mass transport is outdated, overburdened and costly to maintain. Too many cities are plagued by traffic congestion and poor air quality. The need for greener, more efficient transportation has never been greater. There’s a better way of getting from A to B.” Both these companies along with the SpaceX are working to make this technology a reality.
Check out the full story of Tesla if you want to read more about Elon Musk on the Emerald City Journal.