Happy Hyperloop Day!
Today's date may go down in history as the day Elon Musk revealed his alpha plan for the fifth mode of transportation, the Hyperloop. Or, it could disappear into oblivion like the buildings near that giant sinkhole that opened up somewhere that nobody is paying attention to right now. Only time will tell. As for me, I want to honor the occasion with some thoughts and some humor. You know, just in case this gets serious.
Prior to today at 1:30pm, the world knew very little of Elon's big Hyperloop plans: it was to be a mix between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table. After public speculation, Elon added that it would not operate in a total vacuum. MagLev designs were proposed along with all sorts of other speculative concepts, but to my knowledge, nobody got it right. Yet Elon and team delivered on their promise with a 57-page adventure into the future of travel.
It is beyond ironic to me that, at the very time I needed it most, technology failed me, and I was unable to really digest the Hyperloop plan until getting home later in the day. First, my cell phone battery died, and even plugging it in was not enough to get sufficient juice in order to navigate to Twitter to find Elon's post. Since my work blocks all forms of social media, I had to rely on search engines to attempt to find Elon's blog post, and they only led me to articles speculating about the Hyperloop, not to Elon's post itself. Grrr...
Frustrated and a bit stressed (other factors involved making matters worse), I loaded the Hyperloop plan onto my Nook and headed for my pedicure. Here are my initial observations / reactions:
- The plan calls for a fifth mode of transportation, naming air, water, road and rail the first four. It later frames the problem statement as being specific to the transportation of people and/or cars between LA and San Francisco. It states that air is too expensive and car and rail are too slow. What it doesn't talk about is water. Obviously, slow boat would be too slow, but it made me wonder, with LA and San Fran having close proximity to the ocean, if there would be some feasible solution in the form of a fast ferry system. Probably not, but I just want someone to think it through and prove it to be infeasible or too expensive or something.
- The plan states that "the lower cost of traveling on Hyperloop is likely to result in increased demand," which I poked fun of in a Tweet, saying that the cool factor is likely to increase demand. While I was being a little funny here, there is some truth to the comment. How many additional passengers will the Hyperloop draw that wouldn't normally make the commute? I don't think that number is so insignificant it can be disregarded, especially in the first year of operation. I'd be interested in seeing stats on similar openings, although its possible nothing really would compare to being one of the first to ride on a product of Elon Musk's imagination.
- The 20 foot pillar requirement really bothers me. First, it was not well explained (or perhaps, well understood by me) why this requirement even exists at all. I get that it would be nice to minimize real estate requirements, but if the majority of the path will be along the freeway, and the commuter load on that freeway was to be greatly reduced by Hyperloop, then I see no reason why it can't utilize a lane or two of the existing freeway, rather than be built to tower over it. Second, I think the general public, and even early adopters, are going to be nervous about zooming along 20 feet above ground with only .7 inches between you and your death. Having seen how the media tore apart my remarkably awesome Chevy Volt, it's not hard to imagine the lies, heresay and ridiculous speculation that will be passed off as journalism about the Hyperloop, should it ever come to fruition. Traveling at over 600 mph seems significant enough, why does it have to be lifted in the air for an additional fear factor?
- I wasn't alone in foreseeing how this technology could be better utilized in, say, Mars, where Elon's SpaceX just happens to have set its sights. In fact, the Hyperloop appeals to almost every aspect of my inner nerd, from the autonomation that can be likened to the benefits of autonomous or self-driving cars, to the solar infused electric power system that allowed a number of coincidental plugs (no pun intended) of Tesla's electric cars (see caption on pic to the right). Even my love of supply chain is intrigued with the idea of moving people and things at near Mach 1 speed, not to mention the fact that LA has one of the largest ports in America. Oh yes, one could imagine a distant future, where bimodal transportation becomes trimodal transportation, involving a leg of Hyperloop between slow boat from China and semitruck to its final destination. As I tweeted to one fellow geek, 3D printing is the only thing missing in this otherwise ultimate nerd design.
- A lot of the news coverage talks about Hyperloop in terms of minutes, which is cool. But its not nearly as cool as talking about traveling from LA to San Fran in a matter of seconds. Elon's plan called for a precise 2,134 seconds between stations. I can't emphasize enough how much I love this singular number and what it represents.