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Posted: November 07, 2013

More on the 100 million jobs at stake

The history of the Hyperloop

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)

Elon Musk first mentioned that he was thinking about a concept for a “fifth mode of transport”, calling it the Hyperloop, in July 2012 at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica, California. He described several characteristics of what he wanted in a hypothetical high-speed transportation system: immunity to weather, cars that never experience crashes, an average speed twice that of a typical jet aircraft, low power requirements, and the ability to store energy for 24-hours of operation. He estimated at the time that the cost of the Castro Valley-Sylmar Hyperloop would be about $6 billion.

Musk has likened the hyperloop to a “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table,” while noting that it has no need for rails. He also noted it could work either above or below ground.

From late-2012 until August 2013, an informal group of engineers at both Tesla and SpaceX worked on the conceptual foundation and modeling of Hyperloop, allocating some full-time effort to it toward the end.

The tubes would maintain a vacuum-pressure equivalent to an altitude of 150,000 feet. This is very thin air, but still 1,000 times denser than ET3’s proposed vacuum, and therefore easier to manage leakage and entry and exit of capsules through airlocks. But even that tiny amount of air is enough to dramatically increase demands on the capsules, which include a vacuum engine powered by a 436-hoursepower motor.

A high-level alpha design for the system was published on August 12, 2013, in a whitepaper posted to the Tesla and SpaceX blogs. Musk also invited feedback as an open source design project to “see if people could find ways to improve it.”

The following day he announced a plan to construct a demonstration of the concept.
 
  *The Meeting Between Oster and Musk*

On Sept 18, Daryl Oster and his team from ET3 met with Elon Musk and his engineers at the Space X headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

After a brief tour of Musk’s rocket facility the two got into a detailed discussion of evacuated-tube transport systems, a topic both feel is worth fighting for. Through their discussions, ideas began to converge, and Oster told Musk he was working on securing a site for a three-mile, $30 million ET3 prototype and hopes to break ground before the end of 2013.

Musk wished him luck and offered one piece of advice: “Just build the three miles. And you’d better be careful — don’t hurt anyone.”

He also indicated he may be interested in investing in ET3, but he didn’t want to be the lead investor.

*The World’s Largest Infrastructure Project*

Assuming the pilot project goes well and no one gets hurt along the way, it’s easy to envision a mad scramble between countries vying to be next. Once a technology sets a new standard, no one wants to get left out.

Like any radically new technology, it starts with a level playing field.

The pilot project will lead to the first city-to-city project, and once successful, a rush-to-be-next will ensue. A global consortium will be assembled to map out plans for international trunk lines, and individual countries will begin thinking through feeder line strategies to connect to the cross-continent central system. Within a few years the vision will morph into a tangible reality, and like road-builders in the past, schools and training systems will crop up around the world, and construction will begin.
 
Even before the main trunk lines are complete, an entire network of feeder lines will begin to crop up both for bragging rights and to help countries gain a better grasp on this new form of transportation. It’s important to understand that even with the most optimistic scenarios, it will still take decades for the complete build out. All told, this new transportation system will cost well over $1 trillion to construct, creating more than 100 million jobs over the next 50 years.
 
  *The Value of a Super Connected Society*

Besides cutting pollution and dramatically lowering our carbon footprint, faster and cheaper transportation will lead to a far more connected world. The number of people crossing country boarders each year will grow from millions to billions, and conducting business on seven continents simultaneously will become as routine as our cross-cultural thinking.

A super-connected society is also a dependent society. More than ever people will learn to need and respect each other. That’s not to say there won’t be outliers who want to destroy much of what is being built, but the majority of people will shift their thinking from micro-neighborhoods to macro-neighborhood.

At the same time, unique talent will become more discoverable. Artisans and craftsmen will all be able to carve out their own niche. Serendipity will grow exceedingly long arms and once-in-a-lifetime meetings and events will begin happening with far greater frequency. Along with increasing levels of both physical and digital awareness, the IQ of the entire planet will climb significantly.
 
  *Final Thoughts*

In 1972, RAND’s Robert Salter wrote, “We no longer can afford to continue to pollute our skies with heat, chemicals and noise, nor to carve up our wilderness areas and arable land for new surface routes. Nor can we continue our extravagant waste of limited fossil fuels.”

Today, the U.S. population is 50 percent larger; U.S. airline passenger miles have leapt by a factor of 20; we drive, collectively, 250 percent more miles in more than twice as many vehicles; and our atmosphere is laden with 21 percent more carbon dioxide. Vacuum tube transport is not just a great idea; it’s becoming a moral imperative. Ships and planes are polluting our oceans and skies faster than nature can clean it up. This is a solution that will not only solve all those problems; it will create over 100 million jobs along the way. And, most importantly, it will pay for itself.

If it were on this year’s ballot, I would vote yes.
 

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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