Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has a pretty cool idea: Why not build a high-speed transit system from California to New York, blasting people across the country in an hour or so? This proposed system, called the Hyperloop, sounds great--or a little horrifying, based on his description that it's a "cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table."
The proposed Hyperloop would be based on Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies designed by a company called ET3. The Hyperloop wasn't Musk's idea, but he has the fame to champion it--and since ET3 calls their technology "Space travel on Earth," you can see why the CEO of SpaceX would be interested.
Then again, it would be hard not to be interested in a proposed transit system that hurtles passengers across the globe at speeds of up to 4000 miles per hour. According to the ET3 website, "Speed in initial ET3 systems is 600km/h (370 mph) for in state trips, and will be developed to 6,500 km/h (4,000 mph) for international travel that will allow passenger or cargo travel from New York to Beijing in two hours.
"ET3 is networked like freeways, except the capsules are automatically routed from origin to destination. ET3 capsules weigh only 183 kg (400 lbs), yet like an automobile, can carry up to six people or 367 kg (800 lbs) of cargo. Compared to high speed rail, ET3 needs only 1/20th the material to build because the vehicles are so light. With automated passive switching, a pair of ET3 tubes can exceed the capacity of a 32 lane freeway. ET3 can be built for 1/10th the cost of High Speed Rail, or 1/4th the cost of a freeway."
ET3's dream is essentially to install a high-tech pneumatic tube system underground, except for humans instead of mail or money. And there are obvious limitations compared to other forms of travel--the proposed passenger capsules would carry only six passengers, and the Hyperloop would require a fixed tube system to be built before it could begin operation. But ET3's plan for automated transit means it could transport up to 200,000 passengers per hour per direction. It predicts a trip from LA to New York would cost about $100.
Considering how difficult high speed rails are to get approved and built in the US, the Hyperloop sadly seems like a great dream that will never, ever happen. Anyone have a few billion dollars and the political clout to turn the Hyperloop into a reality?