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Elon Musk Inspired an Industry of Hyperloop Startups. Now He's Building His Own (bloomberg.com) 153

An anonymous reader shares a report: Elon Musk introduced his vision for a futuristic mode of tube-based transportation called the hyperloop in 2013. In an exhaustive white paper, he laid out a body of research conducted with his team at Space Exploration Technologies demonstrating the system's viability and seemingly offered it as a gift to the entrepreneurial community. "I don't have any plan to execute because I must remain focused on SpaceX and Tesla," he said in a conference call at the time. He apparently changed his mind. Last month, the SpaceX and Tesla chief executive officer revealed on Twitter that he'd received "verbal government approval" to build a hyperloop capable of ferrying passengers between New York and Washington, D.C., in 29 minutes. The tweet came as a shock to executives at the various startups racing to develop their own hyperloops based on Musk's specifications. Several of them initially expressed hope that Musk would simply dig the tunnels and perhaps choose one of their startups to create the physical infrastructure, which involves a tube-encased train traveling at speeds faster than an airplane. Nope. A person close to Musk said his plan is to build the entire thing, including the hyperloop system. Musk also holds a trademark for "Hyperloop" through SpaceX, which could be used to prevent other companies from using the term, according to U.S. public records. The billionaire's unexpected entry into the hyperloop business could threaten the ambitions of three startups, which have raised about $200 million combined from venture backers. "There's probably a finite amount of capital willing to bet on this space -- and bet against him," said Jonathan Silver, the former loan programs director at the U.S. Department of Energy. Silver learned not to underestimate Musk after overseeing a 2010 loan of $465 million to Tesla, which the electric carmaker paid back, with interest, nine years ahead of schedule.
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Elon Musk Inspired an Industry of Hyperloop Startups. Now He's Building His Own

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  • I doubt he'll hold onto the trademark for Hyperloop very long. It's already used generically by enough people who don't think of it as a company-specific term.

    Trying to hold onto the Hyperloop trademark will cause headaches. Perhaps Musk will need some asprin.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday August 04, 2017 @10:43AM (#54940209) Homepage

      Part of the problem that will come up is that they never made any indication that its use was trademarked previously, and repeatedly stressed that they're describing an "open source transportation concept". They may have trouble on defense.

      Really, I can't imagine how all of these other companies and their backers must feel. It's like they got punk'd by Elon.

      Elon: "No, no, I have no interest in doing this myself, all of you go ahead."

      Investors: "Good, because we know how hard it would be to compete with you for contracts and further capital because of your name recognition and because you established the concept."

      (Much later)

      Investors: ".. There we go, now our money is all tied up in these Hyperloop startups. Thank god Elon isn't personally involved in this field."

      Elon: "Psych! I'm back in!"

      That said... Hyperloop One, the furthest along, has just turned it into some uninteresting maglev-train-in-a-pipe concept. Hyperloop Alpha specifically was designed to avoid maglev because of how expensive it is; it's one of the fundamental design features that sets the concept apart. So I'm more interested in Elon's work here.

      • Really, I can't imagine how all of these other companies and their backers must feel. It's like they got punk'd by Elon.

        Who cares? Revolutionizing transportation is more important than a few VCs making a buck. If they can't handle competition, it is unlikely they would have been successful anyway.

      • Running a maglev train in a pipe is actually a great idea, aside from the Hyperloop application. You can achieve high speeds without the threat of 'derailing' from a guideway. Pipes can be run underground in densely populated places where land is expensive and over long free spans above ground.

    • by Anonymous Coward


    • Nah, he'll probably keep it.

      Kleenex, Band-Aid, TiVo, DustBuster, Jell-O, Dumpster, Thermos, Realtor, Port-a-potties, escalator, Tylenol, Tums, Photoshop, etc.

      All generic trademarks. However, trademark erosion is a real threat.

    • Let's try and think of a generic name that are is generic they cannot be trademarked: Vaccuum Tube Transport, VTT or "the tube" (I think they call the subway in London, England the tube). "Are you flying in?" "No, I'm thinking of tubing it". Sounds better than "this afternoon I'll be Hyperlooping to Boston".
  • So he basically tricked a bunch of hacks with money into pursuing his idea instead of their own, then joined it late in the game able to rip off their R&D while holding all the marketing/branding power?

    I'm no Musk fan, but as far as Silicon Valley marketing/sales people go he's no all-bad this time around. (his borderline sweatshop of engineers with low pay in constant burn-out mode withstanding)

    • Really?what tech will he be ripping off and from whom? Also engineers working for him seem to be much happier than working for places like Ula, GM, Ford, BMW, Daimler, Toyota, Boeing, etc.
    • Not so much that. I think it's more that he's seen Hyperloop One use the name Hyperloop for a different system. Hyperloop One are doing mag-lev in a near vacuum. Musk's Hyperloop idea was air-bearings (like an air hockey table) in a low pressure tube, with the pod collecting rarefied air in a fan at the front and pushing it through holes in the bottom of the capsule.

  • The idea of a vacuum transport tube has been around before Elon Musk. I remember attending colloquium in college where some inventors were trying to get interest in building evacuated tube transport. http://www.et3.com/ [et3.com]
    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Except if you knew anything about Hyperloop and had read the Alpha document you'd realize that not only is it not "a vacuum transport tube", the capsules wouldn't even work in a hard vacuum. It's a linear air bearing, avoiding the need for maglev (which is very expensive), operating akin to an extreme ground-effect aircraft in a very rarified atmosphere - and getting around the air buildup problem via a compressor. No, this concept is not old. No, it does not resemble ET3. It's specifically designed to avo

      • if you knew anything about Hyperloop and had read the Alpha document you'd realize that not only is it not "a vacuum transport tube"

        I think it's worth quoting the alpha document to get an idea what Musk has in mind.

        The approach that I believe would overcome the Kantrowitz limit is to mount an electric compressor fan on the nose of the pod that actively transfers high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel. This is like having a pump in the head of the syringe actively relieving pressure.

        It would also simultaneously solve another problem, which is how to create a low friction suspension system when traveling at over 700 mph. Wheels don’t work very well at that sort of speed, but a cushion of air does. Air bearings, which use the same basic principle as an air hockey table, have been demonstrated to work at speeds of Mach 1.1 with very low friction. In this case, however, it is the pod that is producing the air cushion, rather than the tube, as it is important to make the tube as low cost and simple as possible.

        http://www.spacex.com/sites/sp... [spacex.com]

        Whether it works and is economically viable... Well, I am not the one with a few successful multi-billion dollar companies that turned the impossible and uneconomical into reality.

    • It's also been a staple of Science Fiction since the invention of pneumatic tube transports. I think Arthur C Clarke had it in several of his stories.
      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        And now we add in the second thing people routinely confuse with Hyperloop (pneumatic tubes). Let's be clear:

        Pneumatic train != Maglev-in-a-tube != Hyperloop Alpha

        • And now we add in the second thing people routinely confuse with Hyperloop (pneumatic tubes). Let's be clear:

          I suppose in every crowd there has to be someone as illiterate and slow as you. I thought someone of average intelligence was capable of figuring out that the idea of "air pressured propulsion in a tube" inspired "magnetic levitation propulsion in a vacuum tube". The latter (not the former) is found in many science fiction stories.

    • Musk is not an inventor but an innovator. Invention is coming up with new ideas. Innovation is putting the right ideas together and putting the result into practice. The iPhone didn't really contain anything new, yet it was a game changer. Electric cars have been around for ages, but Musk built the first ones that even petrolheads actually wanted to drive (and didn't look like shit). This transportation system is not a new idea but if he pulls it off, it'll be the first one to go into service.

  • I'm tired of all the hype about "Hyperloop".
    The science behind it is iffy, at best right now.
    They haven't even had a successful run of the full test track yet. Even with their proprietary pod.
    But he's prancing around as if it were a fully realized product, getting handshake deals for building hyperloops all over the place.
    It's looking a lot like ship-and-patch to me.

    Which means, with something like this, people are going to have to DIE before someone takes a serious look at it and sees what a boondoggle is

    • The science behind it is iffy, at best right now.
      In which way?

      • by MercTech ( 46455 )

        Thunderfoot did a good job of debunking the hyperloop.

        Passenger rail died out due to being more expensive and a miserable experience. When you could fly for $120 and be there in a day but a train took almost 3 days and cost $250; people took flights and ignored the passenger rail. (1968 prices for trip from Mississippi to Baltimore.) Remember, this was a day when a meat and two veg lunch ran 25 cents. The cost difference was a budget breaker.

    • The science behind it is iffy, at best right now.

      Actually, the science is pretty well understood. Even the engineering is pretty well understood. The biggest issues with hyperloop are the scale and the cargo.

      There've been pretty impressive systems of "pneumatic tubes" that have been built for sending things around [si.edu]. Of course, those tubes were fairly small and they carried inanimate objects. Now we want to make them travel much further and be much bigger and carry people at high speeds, so there's bunches of issues there that need to be figured out.

      • by Chas ( 5144 )

        Sorry, but trying to build a miles-long vacuum chamber out of thin-wall steel tubing, and pushing people through it at high rates of speed?

        The science behind his CHOSEN SOLUTION is iffy.

        Sure it can be brute-forced to work. But there are several major points of failure that are simply ignored. And actual safety systems haven't even been discussed.

        The fact is, this thing is supposed to be carrying people. People generally object to being worse-than-killed on a business commute.

  • There's no way he could get enough space to run a giant tube over the land. He'd have to do something crazy like dig giant tunnels everywhere. Good luck finding someone who can do that without breaking your budget. ;)

  • "willing to bet on" and "bet against him" , makes it sound so wild wild west, professional and totally planned xD ... tsch , the land of Edison ... if it wasnt for the opportunities then what would it be without the military huh ?

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