What is Elon Musk's hyperloop transport system?

04 September 2017

Question

What is Elon Musk's hyperloop transport system?

Answer

Chris Smith put this question to Angel investor and tech expert Peter Cowley...

Peter - Chris, I'm surprised you haven’t heard about it. You’ve heard about Tesla of course, some spaceX no doubt. Well, hyperloop is something that Elon Musk is working on. And this comes back to the 42 minutes to some extent because it’s a tube that is evacuated and then will transport people from one place to another. So, if you go back to when I was growing up in the ‘60s that we had – which is similar with places in retail, in department stores which would move the cash around. So you'd put something in a little container and it will get sent off from the cashier’s desk somewhere. The cash would then be changed and be come back down to the store. That’s exactly the same thing. So this is a long tube with a vacuum in it and then transporting down the tube are a set of people. Patterned by a guy in the ‘20s actually, Robert Goddard and Elon Musk has actually done this in interesting ways. It made it open source which means that anybody around the world can use these ideas and there's about 400 or 500 people working on this around the world. And the once that are closest to happening are the one between LA and San Francisco, one in Abu Dhabi, and one in South Korea. And basically, what they're doing, evacuating the tube down to about a millibar. That’s a 10,0000ths of an atmosphere and using either the sort of air hockey table approach or magnetic levitation to shift down a capsule with people in it.

Chris - And how fast will they go then?

Peter - It’s supposed to be going – well, they're certainly a but – they're still for some reason, which I don’t understand(18:35) which somebody else on the panel might do. There still seems to be a problem with sonic boom even though you’ve only got 1/10000 of atmosphere. So they're looking at about the 750 to 800 miles an hour. So nothing like as fast as it would be if you went round around the earth – sorry, through the earth. But it’s sort of the order of - San Francisco, Los Angeles is about 350 miles. We’re talking about half an hour for that trip.

Chris - Gosh! That would speed up the commute, wouldn’t it? That’s…

Peter - It’s true to commuters. It’s rather too fast, I think so.

Chris - I think so. But if you could shrink travel down on that sort of scale, it wouldn’t be, would it?

Peter - Exactly, yeah, yeah. Thinking there's something in the way like a piece of ocean or something like that. Of course, the issue is, the same as you get with early aviators is risk, isn’t it? People inside this capsule, what happens when something goes wrong? What happens when the power fails? What happens if there's a terrorist attack, etc.? And so, it will be the early adopters who will use it.

Chris - Will you head up on one of those Jess?

Jess - No. I mean, I think it’s super interesting. I was just thinking California and all of the bad traffic, all of the commuter’s nightmares are because of things like Google and Elon Musk, and Facebook. And all of those big things down in Palo Alto mean that the traffic in San Francisco and the idea of getting from San Francisco, not you drive obviously, you have to fly. But the traffic even to the airport is horrific, all because of these people working there. And yet, they're the ones developing the technology to shoot people in a tube.

Peter - That’s correct, but the biggest issue of all is they haven’t really adopted public transport, have they?

Jess - Yeah.

Peter - The rail system in the states is pretty poor, isn’t it?

Jess - Yeah.

Peter - So this is like putting a railway on and it’s terrible.

Jess - And like that they’ve just skipped the train line and just said, “Let’s package them in cat…”

Chris - What about things like earthquakes because that’s pretty important there too, isn’t it?

Jess - Oh yeah.

Chris - And you know, that could cause havoc if you have something hurdling along at 800 miles per hour and then suddenly, it depressurises because there's a rupture in the tube.

Peter - Correct or just even – yeah, a slightest variation is going to catch the sides and then who knows what then?

Chris - So would you say is it fair to say this is not something you'll be investing in soon, Peter? Are you out?

Peter - Yes, exactly.

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