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Transportation Technology Science

Elon Musk's 'Hyperloop': More Details Revealed 533

Posted by samzenpus
from the behind-the-scenes dept.
astroengine writes "Entrepreneur Elon Musk revealed details today about his concept for a high-speed transportation system he calls the Hyperloop. After tweeting that he'd pulled an all-nighter preparing for the announcement, Musk told Businessweek that the design could transport people as well as cars inside aluminum pods that move up to 800 miles per hour through a tube. The tubes would be mounted on columns 50 to 100 yards apart, not interfering with land needs because it would essentially follow major highways, such as I-75 in California."
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Elon Musk's 'Hyperloop': More Details Revealed

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  • I-75? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dtmos (447842) * on Monday August 12, 2013 @06:21PM (#44546779)

    . . . it would essentially follow major highways, such as I-75 in California.

    Let the record show that TFA correctly states "I-5". Somebody in Michigan needs to watch his typos.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And here I was thinking that it also folded space-time!

    • by Valdrax (32670)

      Let the record show that TFA correctly states "I-5". Somebody in Michigan needs to watch his typos.

      Not the first link. At least not as of the time I read it. The Slashdot summary is a pure cut and paste (with links restored) of the first paragraph from the Discovery News article.

    • Re:I-75? (Score:5, Funny)

      by larry bagina (561269) on Monday August 12, 2013 @09:34PM (#44548403) Journal

      . . . it would essentially follow major highways, such as I-75 in California.

      Let the record show that TFA correctly states "I-5". Somebody in Michigan needs to watch his typos.

      They used xerox copy/paste

  • by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Monday August 12, 2013 @06:25PM (#44546817) Journal
    The problem I see with this is while it's nice to dream about 800 mph travel, I can't imagine that it would be feasible to construct a track or tube that could follow the terrain at that speed and still maintain passenger comfort. If you are building above-ground supports, you don't want them to be 500 ft tall as would probably be required in order to keep the tube straight enough for passenger comfort and safety.
    • The problem I see with this is while it's nice to dream about 800 mph travel, I can't imagine that it would be feasible to construct a track or tube that could follow the terrain at that speed and still maintain passenger comfort. If you are building above-ground supports, you don't want them to be 500 ft tall as would probably be required in order to keep the tube straight enough for passenger comfort and safety.

      Luckily, advancement doesn't have to wait for the average guy's imagination to catch up. Have you actually read the proposal or are you just doing the usual slashdot thing?

      The guy runs two companies, one in the space business and one that makes electric cars. I'm sure he'll need to ask a construction company for advice about the pillars, etc, but is there any reason to suppose he hasn't run this past the best engineers in those two companies? I'm sure his cost estimates are off, they can only be estimates this early in a design study, but it's not like he doesn't have engineers that know aerodynamics and vehicle design.

      I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until real rebuttal arrives, say from someone who can point out actual errors in the proposal.

    • Go slower in curvier areas? Those areas are probably stops anyway. In rural areas straightening the path is easier.

    • I can't imagine that it would be feasible to construct a track or tube that could follow the terrain at that speed and still maintain passenger comfort.

      Have you ever driven through California's Central Valley? It is completely flat for hundreds of miles.

  • Speak for yourself, Musk. Tube Land sounds awesome.

  • by x181 (2677887) on Monday August 12, 2013 @06:35PM (#44546891)
    I think it would be a much better replacement for freight trains and trucks. I'm guessing that may be their goal but they don't want to upset the train and trucker unions just yet. I'd say Amazon should get it on this as well to speed up their shipping times and hit their same-day delivery dream.
  • Tubes (Score:5, Funny)

    by SnarfQuest (469614) on Monday August 12, 2013 @06:37PM (#44546917)

    Can these tubes also be used to carry the innernet?

  • I know that the original target speed was 4000 mph but even at 800-1000 mph how safe will this be when a fast deceleration occurs. In a plane during a crash it skids, hopefully, in a empty field or ocean and then comes to a stop. In a car there are crumple zones to absorb the impact to slow down the deceleration. It doesn't seem like there would be the enough padding to make it stop reasonably. This idea seems to be great but only if it had it's own separate rail section to handle emergencies. http://ww [abc.net.au]
    • by Microlith (54737)

      A fast deceleration caused by what? Most fast-decelerations that planes suffer are imposed at 9.8m/s^2 and kill a good chunk of the passengers as they slam into the ground, so I don't see how accidents could be much worse given how few people ride per pod.

      • by elbonia (2452474) on Monday August 12, 2013 @07:15PM (#44547313)

        A fast deceleration caused by what?
        Like detecting a crack or fault in the tube structure shortly ahead of the current location and it needs to come to an immediate stop.

        Most fast-decelerations that planes suffer are imposed at 9.8m/s^2...
        Actually almost None do, a plane becomes a glider when it's engines quits and glides to the ground. 9.8 m/s^2 would imply that it descends straight down like a rock with no air resistance. When engines fail planes can glide to a landing and then skid on the ground with the resistance of the ground slowing the plane down during the "slapdown"


        • by Microlith (54737)

          Like detecting a crack or fault in the tube structure shortly ahead of the current location and it needs to come to an immediate stop.

          That's different from an impact-style deceleration, which all of your examples involve. I suppose it depends on what kind of fault is in the tube, unfortunately there are so many that there are a number of different scenarios including: not stopping, allowing the increase in air pressure to slow the car, slamming into a fractured tube and crashing, etc.

          Actually almost None do

    • by Guspaz (556486) on Monday August 12, 2013 @07:17PM (#44547333)

      The target speed was never 4000 MPH (I think you're confusing this with ET3's proposal). For deceleration: emergency brakes and the cars have wheels for emergencies. One question that should be asked is, what is it going to crash into? Not other capsules, they're moving away from you and have a huge safety margin of distance between them. Not the station, it's a passive system that handles deceleration (no power required). If the capsule needs to decelerate themselves for some reason, you're going from a maximum of 760 MPH to 0 MPH using the capsule's mechanical emergency breaking system. At the same deceleration as the capsules would accelerate, that's about seventy seconds over roughly seven and a half miles. Which is much faster than a high-speed train can do the same thing.

      The document Must posted does cover several emergency scenarios. Passenger health emergency? Best thing is to keep going to next station as scheduled, with a maximum trip length of 35 minutes it's the fastest way to get an active response, and much faster than you can get emergency services to an in-flight aircraft. Major depressurization of a car? Actuate emergency breaks on all cars and rapidly re-pressurize the entire tube. Major earthquake (beyond the ability of the pylon dampers to handle)? Emergency break all the capsules and wait it out. Power outage? The system has many times more stored battery capacity to complete all in-progress journeys. Power failure of system itself? Cars are self-powered, so can coast a decent distance themselves, and then the batteries normally used to power the turbine can be used instead to power motors on the emergency wheels to get the capsules either to the station at the end of the line or the closest emergency exit location. I'm sure there are tons of possibilities that haven't been accounted for, but many are.

  • “The pods would be mounted on thin skis made out of inconel, a trusted alloy of SpaceX that can withstand high pressure and heat,” Vance wrote. Air would get pumped through tiny holes in the inconel skis to create an air cushion, and it would get there via an electric turbo compressor. An electromagnetic pulse would each pod an initial thrust.

    I saw this described almost exactly the same in a popular science magazine in Australia in the mid '70's . I can still picture the cover illustration, but damned if I can remember the title of the magazine ("Scientific Australia"????)

  • by kylegordon (159137) on Monday August 12, 2013 @06:51PM (#44547051) Homepage

    All the /. experts come out of their caves to debunk a paper by a guy that brought us internet payments, commercial space travel, and luxury electric cars.

    • He already said he's not going to do this one, so don't hold your breath.
      • by c++0xFF (1758032)

        He already said he's not going to do this one ... yet. He's giving the world a chance to chime in first. Then, in a couple years, if someone else hasn't picked up the ball, he says he'll pursue it himself.

        Given Musk's history, I'm going to think of this project as vaporware that has a decent chance of condensing into a liquid someday.

    • All the /. experts come out of their caves

      I'm not coming out of my cave. It's the only place with decent WiFi coverage...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Just because he can hire enough experts to do what has already been done or mostly done... doesn't mean he can do everything or anything. This isn't Paypal, which took existing technology and convinced people to use him rather than the banks. Nor is this SpaceX, which has taken existing technology and may (someday) provide commercial space travel by hiring existing experts. Nor is this Tesla, which took existing technology... I think you see the pattern.

      (Seriously, if you believe that someones ability t

      • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Monday August 12, 2013 @07:38PM (#44547491)

        I think Mr. Musk has demonstrated four times now that he is the financial equivalent of riding a unicycle across a tightrope while juggling bananas. Existing technology is useless if it never leaves the bench. (And Slashdot has 10394856 solar cell stories to prove it.) Elon Musk takes technology that's been languishing on the bench and turns it into viable companies. This is not exactly a trivial talent, or it would happen more frequently. His ability to put together a functional team of experts, then direct and fund them to success, is quite unusual. Doing it all on a budget 1/10th the size of other organizations (that still fail to deliver) is what really makes for an impressive performance.

        Yes, I do see a pattern. I see a pattern of rather startling success, that "anybody" could have done. Except. They didn't.

  • Ok, building an electric car is one thing, since public utilities, like roads, don't need to be heavily modified; but dreaming of a high speed rail... quite a bit needs to be done for that. Why are we even posting this? There's plenty of people dreaming, my 6 old daughter thinks there should be an emergency slide to get from a space station back to earth. Where's her article?

    Given that California has been struggling since the 80s to establish high speed rail between LA and SF... I doubt this will get any

    • There's plenty of people dreaming, my 6 old daughter thinks there should be an emergency slide to get from a space station back to earth. Where's her article?

      That's my question too, why haven't you gotten her to write it? People might actually be interested in that.

      I also dream of having a gold plated urinal in my Ferrari filled garage but like Elon, that's just dreaming.

      Just so you know, a gold plated urinal would probably cost less than $1000. Gold plating is surprisingly inexpensive.

    • by Microlith (54737)

      Why are we even posting this?

      Because it's interesting, and the guy who thought of it has a decent track record?

      There's plenty of people dreaming, my 6 old daughter thinks there should be an emergency slide to get from a space station back to earth. Where's her article?

      Because your daughter's idea is an uneducated flight of fancy. Given she's 6, it's forgivable. This is hypothetical, but not as silly as an emergency slide from the ISS to the ground.

    • I understand your view and to an extent I agree with it, but a lot of people thought Musk was crazy for thinking that he could build rockets basically from the ground up for a few hundred million dollars. There were many who said that such a program would need billions just to get the first launch, but he came up with a way to do it for far less than most expected. He might have something here, though whether it's possible at any price in the current California political environment is a very good questio

    • by localman (111171)

      Another person who didn't read the paper. Sigh. Is this really what Slashdot is now?

      The reason we're posting this is because it isn't just dreaming. He laid out a specific plan with some reasonable numbers. Did your daughter calculate the the drag effects for moving through a low pressure tube at mach 1? Did she spec out the size of batteries it would take to power the turbofan that moves the air from the front of the system to the back while creating a suspension cushion? What about how the lateral g force

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Monday August 12, 2013 @06:56PM (#44547101)
    I love it when simple obvious, and in this case old, technologies blow expensive and complicated technologies out of the water. Let's see, an old pneumatic message system with cars big enough for people. Cheap, easy to build, probably dirt cheap to run and maintain. Wow.

    But there is huge problem with this system. Being so cheap and simple there is little room for massive companies to lobby/sell their complicated overpriced technologies. Tubes? How long is the list of companies that could build tubes? Pylons? How long is the list of companies that can build pylons? The train cars are a bit more limited but again not being maglev that list is still pretty long. Land purchases? I suspect that a bunch of insiders had land all lined up to sell.

    Then you get other technocrats who don't like that their territory is being infringed. The rail people are probably scared that this might be independently run.

    And lastly you get the aviation related interests that are far larger than most people might think. You have the oil refineries who will be unhappy to sell less fuel to both planes and cars, you have taxi drivers who run people to the airports, you of course have the airlines themselves, and you have the airports who will be unhappy to have fewer landings and takeoffs. Plus the no-doubt 50 unions who run the airports among others.

    A tube system like this would be pure evil as far as those people are concerned dropping people off right down-town, how dare they.
  • by TheSync (5291) on Monday August 12, 2013 @07:01PM (#44547155) Journal

    The one thing I did not see is what the expected magnetic field levels will be for passengers.

    Many folks with implanted medical devices are told to stay away from significant RF and magnetic fields. It is possible that the pod could be magnetically shielded enough, but it would be great if he added that info.

    Otherwise, I say scrap the Cali High Speed Rail and build Hyperloop instead!

    (The truth is that I bet the Casinos would throw in the first billion to build one from LA to Vegas...they dumped $650 million on the Las Vegas monorail).

  • The one thing that bothers me is how cheap he estimates it to be. Just 6-7 billion which is about 10 percent of the cost of the competing design. Just the steel for the tube (and being thick enough to not crush under atmospheric pressure) has got to be crazy expensive. He estimates 4 or 5 billion (depending on diameter size), but that seems low? Anybody know the cost of steel on projects of this magnitude?

    • Re:Remarkably Cheap! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Monday August 12, 2013 @08:04PM (#44547701)

      If you read the paper in detail, you'll find some numbers. Since it's not a really hard vacuum inside the tube, and since it's cylindrical, the tube isn't as thick as you'd think. The tube walls are 20 to 23 mm thick (0.8 to 0.9 inches). That thickness can handle the load of the pressure differential, the torsion of its own weight between pillars, and the loading caused by the passing of the capsules, as well as standing up to quite a bit of seismic activity. Steel is pretty strong stuff. Cost for just the tube in the passenger-only model is $650 million. Upgrade the width to allow it to transport cars and light trucks and the tube costs somewhat less than twice that. $1.2 billion or so. That includes fabrication.

      Surprisingly enough, the pillars cost more than the tube. Steel reinforced concrete with height adjustment gear should run around $2.55 billion for the passenger-only version or $3.15 billion for the vehicle version.

      I suspect the competing design is spending more on real estate than the entire Hyperloop system. Hyperloop can use much of the I-5 route, saving a fortune in real estate costs, an option not available for heavy rail on the ground.

  • by Jhyrryl (208418) on Monday August 12, 2013 @07:51PM (#44547609)

    We don't need to build all the intervening tubes, do we? Just get it up to speed, then launch it every 5 miles or so; I'm sure we can catch them safely.

  • by sunfly (1248694) on Monday August 12, 2013 @10:10PM (#44548605)

    If there are not windows, its a no go, this solution forgets that you are moving people.

    A mere 300mph is fine if it has car like comfort, Instead build:
        - Some type of track that can handle a small 2-4 passenger pod at 300mph, and transfer energy to the electric drive.
        - Elevate track for reasons given by Musk
        - Build canopy over track covered in solar cells to get as close as possible to zero net energy
        - Track canopy protects track from most weather
        - Cars that can handle a 300mph crash without killing occupants (big crumple zones)
        - Side windows, and a big screen in front for entertainment and possible operator interaction
        - On / Off ramps and terminals about every 30 miles. You are never more than 6 minutes or so from a terminal.
        - Computer can space cars for airflow efficiency (think Nascar drafting), and make gaps when cars need to switch tracks.
        - Build a hub and spoke network across the US, with the first track from the East Coast to the West Coast.

    Select a route with an app on your phone or touchscreen in a terminal. It shifts the nearest empty car to you (think elevator). You get in, select your in car entertainment. If you need to stop for bathroom just let the computer know, or perhaps push a button, and your car will stop at the next terminal. When you are ready you get back in and continue your journey. All the while watching something close to low level flight out the window.

    This is doable today.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:18PM (#44548943)
    Unlink 99% of the responders, I read the full PDF. I think it is doable, economically justifiable, and has significant benefits,

    Feasibility: No new technology needs to be developed. It uses no exotic technology or materials. Think about the components: steel tubing, concrete pylons, solar cells, batteries, compressors, conventional electromagnets (no superconducting or rare earth magnets). It is an engineering and system integration problem. It is no where near as hard as what SpaceX and Tesla have already done. Tesla can supply the expertise for batteries and linear motor design based on their current experience.

    Economy: The claimed price is $6 billion US. The price could be off by a factor of 3 and it would still cost half as much as the existing rail proposal. More then enough room for cost overruns. Musk experienced this already on SpaceX and it did not kill the company.

    Benefits: It leapfrogs all existing high speed rail technology. It's a complete game changer. A successful outcome would immediately generate a world wide demand. There is a staggering amount of money to be made. In addition, it is ecologically very sound. The worst aspect is likely the amount of energy required for the concrete pylons, and that seems less then an equivilant roadway. Plus solar power is getting cheaper, so some of the price will go down in the long run.

    If the US had any real capitalists around, they would jump at this opportunity. I expect without Musk it will go nowhere, because most big capital expects automatic government guaranteed profit. Although there have been some modest examples of innovative capitalism in the last couple of decades, for the most part capitalism in the US is non-existent, except for a few lone individuals.

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @01:10AM (#44549499)

    Building a hyperloop from San Francisco to Sacramento, or San Francisco to San Jose, would be useful and much shorter and cheaper.

  • There is a great discussion from Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations [wordpress.com]. Alon is a mathematician who is very knowledgable about transit issues and rail alignments in particular.

    In stark contrast to most media (which seems incapable or disinterested in addressing the engineering issues and is basically repeating a press release) he has a number of specific issues:

    • The cost per mile of construction estimates are way too low, probably by a factor of 10.
    • At the planned speeds or even a fraction of them, the alignments would result in much higher passenger G-forces than any existing transit (although lower than many roller coasters) (.5g allegedly for Hyperloop, although it isn't clear how they could keep it that low, versus less than half that for Shinkasen and less for European HSR.
    • The throughput is completely unrealistic
    • The energy use estimates are not fair comparisons
    • The increased speed would not result in significantly faster times than traditional HSR to downtown destinations, due to Hyperloop ending in Sylmar, quite a distance from LA.

The perversity of nature is nowhere better demonstrated by the fact that, when exposed to the same atmosphere, bread becomes hard while crackers become soft.