Elon Musk’s vision for the future of transportation: Maglev trains inside of vacuum tubes

The concept of using magnetically levitating trains or pods to carry passengers across great distances at extraordinary speeds has been around for quite a while.  In fact, science fiction writers as well as inventors, theorists and scientific specialists in various fields have all put forth the idea of using this type of frictionless technology to enhance the way we think about long-distance travel.   However, we’ve yet to see any inkling of this technology applied in any direct way up to this point, but that’s about to change if magnate philanthropist Elon Musk has anything to do with it.

Mr. Musk’s concept involves using large, sealed tubes which propel passengers forward in this vacuum at speeds of up to 4,000 miles per hour.  Naturally, this would mean that you could make a transcontinental trip across the US in less than an hour and even reach a remote location like Beijing China in as little as couple of hours.

The rapid transit system project has been dubbed the “Hyperloop” and will be formally presented some time next month by Tesla Motors (of which Mr. Musk is the CEO and co-founder).  In an almost self-effacing comment, Elon has said that the Hyperloop system is something akin to “a cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air-hockey table.”  While this might be true in terms of the basic concept behind the newly proposed method of transport, it’s anything but simple and certainly not a laughing matter.

However, what makes the hyperloop so appealing, aside from its ability to seriously trim travel times across large swaths of land is the fact that it is to be a system which makes accidents nearly impossible.  In other words, because we’re talking about a frictionless rail here, the standard concerns associated with the physics of travel and resistance don’t really apply.  Furthermore, once the system is up and running Musk plans to integrate solar-powered systems which will make the hyperloop more or less self-contained.  Additionally, Mr. Musk anticipates that this newly proposed form of travel will in fact be more affordable than conventional methods and will be available on demand at any given time.

While pretty much everyone on planet Earth has a reason to get excited about this new proposition, it’s increasingly clear that many haven’t considered how this might affect the world at large.  For instance, in business, this could open up entirely new avenues in terms of how international transactions and projects are carried out.  Additionally, with such a system in place all around the globe it’s entirely likely that we’ll become a much more “international” species which isn’t bound by national borders.  Furthermore, what sort of effect would constant access to such a system do to both the airline and automotive companies?  If you can jump into a tube and be in Tokyo in a few hours (with absolutely no chance of a mishap or crash) why in the world would you want to travel by airplane?  It’s clear that once installed and active, the hyperloop system will likely crush conventional airlines, perhaps even making them obsolete entirely.

Currently, we’re waiting for official statements and announcements, but Musk has already stated that he will be turning the project over to some very well-established and brilliant engineers.  Moreover, Elon has said that he’s completely open to working with anyone that would like to partner with him as long as they’re truly dedicated to bringing a working technology to the table.  Musk seems to be someone who’s interested in efficiency and breakthroughs, not all the political hullabaloo that goes into major business developments, which makes him by all accounts a true entrepreneur in the “John Galt” sense, of course.    He’s even downplayed the use of patents, claiming that they inhibit progress and even going as far to say that he would like to keep the hyperloop project entirely “open source”.

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