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Posted: December 01, 2013

State of the state: Transportation

Longmont’s ET3 aims to turn tubed, airless travel into reality

Mike Dano

When billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk proposed his Hyperloop technology earlier this year – machinery he said could revolutionize long-distance travel  – he sparked a worldwide wave of interest in the possibilities of reduced-friction, tube-based transportation. But lost in most of the hype was the fact that a Colorado operation is months away from starting construction on a prototype that uses almost the exact same technology.

Daryl Oster of Longmont has been pushing the idea of an elevated, airtight travel tube for nearly two decades. He founded ET3 (Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies) in 1997 to create a global business platform to build a series of interconnected tubes that would allow people and materials to travel from one place to another at speeds between 370 mph and 4,000 mph.

Much like Musk’s Hyperloop, the technology behind ET3 would allow car-sized capsules to travel through airless, elevated metal tubes. Electric motors would accelerate the capsules, which would then coast through the tube’s vacuum for the remainder of the trip using no additional power. The result, proponents argue, is travel that is 1/10th the cost of high-speed rail with the capacity of 32 lanes of freeway.

It’s “space travel on Earth,” Oster says.

Naturally there is plenty of uncertainty around a completely new and potentially very expensive method of travel. To prove his technology, Oster is spearheading the construction of three miles of tube outside Las Vegas. He hopes to break ground on the project before the end of 2013, test it throughout the next two years and in 2016, open it to millions of tourists from across the world who visit Las Vegas. The goal, he explained, is both to show that the technology works and to generate interest.

Interestingly, Oster’s approach to tube travel is almost as innovative as the technology itself. ET3 is essentially a one-man operation: It’s a consortium of patent holders organized by Oster that, like the MPEG consortium before it, hopes to standardize a technology, make it profitable and allow anyone to use it. ET3 now counts 313 licensees in 20 nations. It’s those licensees who are going to fund the construction of the Las Vegas prototype, but Oster declined to name them.

As Oster explains, ET3 is just the kind of thing that Musk – the visionary behind PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla – would be interested in. “He said that when we are ready to build our first demonstration, he wants to invest in it,” Oster said, recounting a meeting between Musk, himself and other ET3 representatives shortly before Musk’s Hyperloop announcement.

Mike Dano is a freelance writer and the executive editor for the Telecom Group for FierceMarkets, which includes FierceWireless, FierceTelecom and other publications. Mike has been a journalist for more than a dozen years. Follow Mike @mikeddano and on LinkedIn. Mike is based in Arvada.

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