Planes, Trains, Automobiles… and soon this.

September 25, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Photo credit: Edit1306/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Elon Musk’s vision for a futuristic transportation system, Hyperloop, may take over sooner than we thought.

Imagine being shot through a tubular transportation system in a little pod-capsule traveling at rates nearing the speed of sound. It sounds like a futuristic sci-fi fantasy, but the reality of the Hyperloop system is closer than we thought.

Two years ago, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk proposed the idea, and just like his radical visions for Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City, the dream quickly took off. The futuristic rail system generated immediate interest from the public as well as private investors, encouraging some companies to begin developing beta Hyperloop systems. To further accelerate innovation of the Hyperloop, Musk recently announced a competition for students to design the best passenger pod. Thousands of university scholars and amateur engineers are currently collaborating to design the potential winning system.

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Musk has made it clear that Hyperloop Transportation Technology (HTT) and Hyperloop Technologies are in no way affiliated with him or SpaceX. He wasn’t the first to propose a transportation system like this, rather his ideas gave former proposals (by inventor Robert Goddard, the Rand Corporation, and ET3) the innovations needed to give the idea momentum. Musk’s design overcomes significant barriers of friction and airflow but he’s stressed the fact that, for now at least, he wants to shy away from liability for the product and keep its development open-sourced.

For the Hyperloop vision to succeed, the system would have to be safer, faster, cheaper, and more convenient than alternative travel methods. It would also have to take weather conditions into account, especially earthquakes that could demolish the structure. Engineers are working feverishly with plans to test the technology within a year.

In his long term vision, Musk’s system would use solar-powered electromagnetic pulses to shoot the passenger pods at speeds up to 761 miles per hour. Not only is the vision futuristic, but it works toward Musk’s goal of creating a more sustainable Earth. The motors on the pods would create a cushion of air, allowing the pods to literally float within the tube. Then, they’d be pushed through by linear induction motors positioned along the inside.

Another leading entrepreneur, Quay Hays, donated land to HTT in Quay Valley, California, to build a functional Hyperloop system along a five-mile stretch. Blueprints are ready and the paperwork is being filed to permit the company to start construction in 2016. If all goes well, the Hyperloop system will open to the public in 2018 and pave the way for full-length tracks to be constructed.

Ideally, Hyperloop pods would take off from stations every 30 to 120 seconds, which could hold huge implications for its impact on transportation. Its design is both energy and time efficient, but could also have an immense social and economic influence on society. Being able to travel between cities (like L.A. and San Francisco) in a matter of minutes would open doors for business and personal relationships alike. Shipping and emergency response could also be improved.

No matter what, all of the research and development surrounding the Hyperloop systems will lead to significant benefits and discoveries. The current developments seem promising for the future of the Hyperloop transportation system to manifest itself throughout the next few years. Even if an unanticipated problem arises to halt its evolution, this recent burst of innovation will inevitably lead to a number of related technologies.

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