The reason it is considered an impressive feat is because the Hyperloop isn’t fully realized yet. The concept of the Hyperloop comprises a sealed tube through which a pod travels free of air resistance or friction to reach near super-sonic speed. The goal is to use it to revolutionize travel.
Musk is making strides towards this goal. Although his progress is impressive, the Hyperloop still faces many problems. The most important being that it is not practical for widespread implementation.
The Hyperloop concept has been open sourced to encourage other companies or engineers to take a crack at it. But why share the concept so easily? Colonel Sanders didn’t share his secret recipe with competition when Kentucky Fried Chicken was first founded. It may seem like self-sabotage, but the truth is simple, and maybe altruistic. The Hyperloop concept is available for scientific and engineering minds to apply their knowledge to it and come up with a way to fully realize it. It is mostly theoretical at this stage, but Musk wants it brought to life by anyone capable – the same reason Space X hosted the pod competition.
The biggest obstacle facing its creation is the question of speed. The Tokyo-Osaka Maglev is a “Magnetic Levitation” bullet train track scheduled to open in 2027 with an impressive speed. It will connect the two Japanese cities, a distance of 286 km, in forty minutes with a speed of 500 km/h. But the speed of the fastest bullet train in the world is still sub par in Musk's mind. He wants to achieve a speed nearing the speed of sound at 760 mph. And according to him, it’ll be a smooth enough ride that you won’t have to worry about spilling your drink.
One major issue facing the project is the maintenance costs. At that speed, the Hyperloop is only suited for point-to-point travel between metropolitan cities. What about repairs inside a near-vacuum tunnel? How long would passengers have to wait for repairs caused by a flood, power outage or other potential issues? With two principal stations separated by several miles, the wait would be a considerably long one.
What if it Works?
It would be an incredible feat to get from New York to Chicago (or vice versa) in a little over an hour. It’s currently impossible as a daily commute because of the distance. But, the Hyperloop could open up those possibilities and completely revolutionize the concept of the work commute. It’s not quite teleportation, but one could consider job opportunities in nearby major cities with the accessibility provided by the Hyperloop.
Elon Musk has made a number of bold promises and predictions throughout his career. He has said that within the next 10 years, half of all U.S. vehicles will be electric, nearly all cars will be autonomous, and Tesla will be valued at $700 billion. These claims aren’t just bold, they are life-altering.
At the moment, Musk seems to be emphasizing the creation of the Hyperloop over any potential profit made from it. But Musk is, first and foremost, a business man. Along with Tesla and the space travel branch of Space X, the revolution in transportation is his ultimate goal, and something that he eventually stands to gain much profit from. And that’s the business Elon Musk is in: reshaping the world.
Alex Correa | The Edge Blog