Despite innovations in how we transport people over the last century, these technologies are still loaded with inefficiencies. More importantly, they are still unsustainable and often contribute greenhouse gasses to our atmosphere which cause global warming.

It seems that the problem is not so much with usage, but with underlying design. The global population is not getting any smaller, with some projections claiming there will be over 8 billion people on the planet by 2030. So, the solution to our unsustainable mass transits is not to use them less but to design them differently.

In this article, we discuss one proposal for a new design of mass transit called the Hyperloop. We start by giving a brief history of the concept, ending with an analysis of some of its benefits and potential drawbacks.

A Brief Overview of the Hyperloop

The Hyperloop is a possible way of transporting passengers and freight at high speeds using pods that traverse a tube. These tubes have been proposed as being partially evacuated, which means there is little air pressure for friction or resistance during the journey. Since these tubes can travel so quickly and so easily, they would not use much power in the process. The movement is often likened to how a puck travels on an air hockey table.

While the idea of a high-speed alternative to mass transit has been in the public consciousness for years, it has only recently been updated by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who first publicly expressed his ideas in a 2012 proposal for the Hyperloop (PHP for loop).

A Response to California’s Rail System

Musk has been particularly critical of California’s recent plans for constructing a high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Musk thinks this project, which will cost almost 80 billion dollars, is overly expensive, too slow, and unsustainable. Consequently, his proposal for the Hyperloop attempts to address all of these concerns.

What’s interesting about the Hyperloop is that it’s an open-source design, and Musk has invited visionaries and designers from all over the world to tinker with its concepts and develop their own solutions to its problems. Musk has even developed a 1-mile prototype of the Hyperloop at his company’s headquarters to test out the ideas of his contemporaries.

Even though Musk sees the Hyperloop as benefiting various cities on earth, he also sees applications to the colonization of Mars, another one of his chief interests. In particular, the atmosphere on Mars would allow the Hyperloop to be pod-free, meaning that only tubes would be necessary for transport.

Musk’s proposal has also spawned a number of companies with interests in incarnating his ideas, most specifically throughout Europe. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is one such company, and it plans to connect all of Europe in the near-future.

The Benefits of the Hyperloop

Musk’s initial idea proposes that each pod would be able to travel up to 760 miles per hour, whereas California high-speed rail would only reach speeds of just over 200 miles per hour. This means that the Hyperloop would be able to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in almost a third of the time, making it more convenient and cost-effective.

Additionally, the Hyperloop is described as more autonomous, as single pods have been proposed. This solves many of the problems associated with transporting large amounts of people in a single vehicle, like subway systems or trains. It also makes each route more customizable depending on the user’s preferences.

Lastly, Musk has proposed using solar panels to generate the energy needed to power each pod, which makes the Hyperloop more environmentally friendly than any other transit system currently in use.

In order to accomplish this project on the West Coast, Musk has estimated that it will cost between 6 and 8 billion dollars, which is significantly cheaper than the cost of California’s high-speed rail project.

Criticism of the Hyperloop

Some have criticized the estimated Hyperloop speeds as dangerous and undesirable, especially when single-passenger pods are considered. Many liken the Hyperloop to a more intense amusement park ride and note that some passengers might be claustrophobic or overly-sensitive to high speeds. Thus, while it might be effective, these critics claim it would never be popular enough to warrant construction.

Other critics have taken a more personal jab at Musk, claiming that his gutsy proposal is meant to increase customer interest in his Tesla brand rather than actually solve the inefficiencies of mass transit. These critics see Musk’s ideas as an advertisement for SpaceX careers, with the hope of seducing the next generation of innovators to come work for him.  Many think Musk has been blinded by the desire for profit, and that this translates to an unrealistic budget and a plan that does not consider the possibilities of earthquakes interfering with transportation.

Our Final Thoughts on the Hyperloop

We think that the Hyperloop is a step in the right direction, but that there are still a number of kinks that need to be worked out.

We think that the easiest stage when innovating products is the idea stage and that the hardest part is actually executing the idea without considerable sacrifices. In this sense, the Hyperloop is still years away from actually being realized.

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