Mike Isaac

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Elon Musk Will Likely Build His Own Hyperloop Prototype

hyperloop_capsule_croppedThe West Coast commuter rail of the future may be a ways off. But serial entrepreneur and electric car magnate Elon Musk may help get it off the ground sooner than we thought.

Musk said he was willing to build a prototypical version of a “hyperloop,” the theoretical plan for high-speed transportation up and down the United States’ West Coast.

“I am somewhat tempted to at least make a demonstration prototype,” Musk said in a conference call with reporters on Monday. “Perhaps I’ll create a sub-scale version that’s operating, and then hand it over to somebody else.”

“I think I’ll probably end up doing that,” he said.

First introduced in 2012 and elucidated upon slightly by Musk this year at our D11 conference, Musk’s idea for a hyperloop is described as a “cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table” and “a really fun ride,” he said.

According to Musk, the hyperloop is a long, low-pressure tube “with capsules that are transported at both low and high speeds throughout the length of the tube,” according to the documentation Musk published this afternoon for the first time. The capsules are “supported on a cushion of air” and “are accelerated via a magnetic linear accelerator affixed at various stations on the low pressure tube with rotors contained in each capsule. Passengers may enter and exit Hyperloop at stations located either at the ends of the tube, or branches along the tube length.”

hyperloop_capsule_cutawayIn essence, think of it as getting shotgunned from one end of the coast to another in the span of a half hour. (I’m not even going to try and translate that for you further, just go check out the details here.)

Musk started thinking about the idea a little under two years ago, and began to involve other people in the project over the past nine months. Musk said he’s had a little over a dozen people working on the concept, including devoting engineers from both SpaceX and Tesla.

The pitch is an alternative to the state of California’s high-speed rail plan, approved initially by voters in November of 2008. California’s existing plan, as it stands, would cost an estimated $98 billion, much of which Musk said is dealing with land ownership rights.

“That just doesn’t seem wise for a state that was facing bankruptcy a little while ago,” Musk said.

To be sure, Musk downplayed the importance of this project compared to the other three companies he runs or is involved with — Tesla Motors, SpaceX and Solar City. “This is a low priority relative to the core missions of SpaceX and Tesla,” he said. And with the respective goals of manufacturing electric cars at affordable consumer prices at scale, as well as furthering space transportation, I’d say Musk already has his hands pretty full.

But if the project did not gain enough significant attention from outsiders willing to build some test version, Musk conceded that he would likely jumpstart the effort by building a version of his own.

“I think it might help if I created a prototype,” he said.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work