Sketch from the Hyperloop Alpha Design released by Elon Musk. (Elon Musk)
Billionaire industrial entrepreneur Elon Musk has unveiled the alpha design for the Hyperloop -- his vision for the future of high speed transit.
The co-founder of Pay Pal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX has previously described Hyperloop as a "fifth mode" of transportation that's a cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table. Traveling at more than 600 miles per hour, Musk promised a 30-minute ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Musk also said the Hyperloop would carry 1/10 the price tag of California's estimated $70 billion high-speed rail project between the same two cities. After cost overruns that could run the rail line up to $100 billion, Musk's $6-10 billion Hyperloop seems attractive.
The design uses elevated steel tubes and aluminum pods, large enough to ferry people, or even a car. An air compressor on the front of the pod would push high-pressure air from the front to the rear of the pod, pushing it along at speeds up to 800 miles per hour.
But passengers won't feel the speeds. "The g-forces would always point down," Musk said in a Monday conference call about the design. "It should really feel just super smooth and quiet. And there'd never be any turbulence or anything."
Crashes between pods would be impossible, as air cushions would always separate surfaces. With solar power, the Hyperloop would be sustainably self-powering. Putting solar panels on the entire tube would actually generate too much power. "You'd have to dump the power somewhere," Musk said.
It would be powered by "a linear induction motor, basically the same kind of motor that's in the Model S," Musk said, "invented by Tesla back in the day." He also said a current version of the Model S battery pack would suffice.
But the Hyperloop won't replace flight for longer trips. "Over 1,000 miles, the tube cost starts to become prohibitive, and you don’t want tubes every which way," Musk said. "You don’t want to live in Tube Land."
Musk is releasing the design as an open source project, and says he has no plans to develop the Hyperloop, though he might work on "the beginning bit" before handing the project over to someone else.
"I always invest my own money in companies I create. I don't believe in the whole thing of just using other peoples' money," Musk said. "So, like I said, this is low priority relative to the core missions of SpaceX and Tesla, but I think it may help if I created a prototype and sort of helped things get going in that way."
"I bet people come up with things that make [the alpha design] better."
But still, Musk put out a challenge, saying if it was his top priority, he'd be able to get it done in 1-2 years.