Hyperloop: Elon Musk’s crazy project

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The prosperity of a civilization depends a lot on the technology that it can handle. And in a lot of cases, this technology grow and evolve in the minds of visionary and creative people. Let’s remind of the decisively important work of Nikola Tesla, who is the initial thinker of the alternating current system that we are using every day, while he was living his life made of hotels rooms and unpaid bills. More lately, we can add Bill Gates in the list of the persons that influenced our daily day life, no need to explain you how !

Never heard of Elon Musk ?

Elon Musk, SpaceX and Tesla Motorsport CEO

One more name will maybe figure in the «mad scientists» list in the next years: Elon Musk’s. We can call him mad, because of his projects’ insanity, for example: building a durable human colony on Mars, developing implantable brain-computer interface, or sending people into tubes at a 1200km/h speed.
But he’s also a great scientist who reinvented the electric car (Tesla), and permitted the optimization of many ways to produce energy and use it wisely.
Not like many others, being a businessman doesn’t make him an unethical person. He was part of Donald Trump’s presidential advisory committee, but left few months after his nomination because of Trump’s reject of the Paris agreement. Plus, he likes to open his patents to all scientists, to permit to everybody to think the future based on his inventions. That’s what he did on his Tesla cars and recently, on his project of Hyperloop : His way to see the transportations of tomorrow.

Hypothetical cost of investment for a lane San Francisco/Los Angeles (ready to operate in 2021): 6 Billions $

Cost for the high-speed train system connecting San Francisco/Los Angeles (under construction until 2029): 67.6 Billions $

Hyperloop’s expected speed: 1220km/h

High-speed train’s speed: 200-250km/h

The hyperloop is silent, cheap and incredibly energy saver.

How does it works ?

First Hyperloop shuttle

No rails are in the Hyperloop, only low pressure air in which the shuttle will “levitate”, no friction or vibration that could slow it down. To launch the shuttle, a passive magnetic field will give enough acceleration for the rest of the trip. To softly stop the cabin, a bunch of air pillows will receipt it. Therefor, the energy won’t be lost and, with a dynamo system, will create more electricity than it needs.

So far, only the propulsing system has been tested succesfully and reached 187km/h in 1 second. Currently, tests are occuring in a 500 meters long tunnel in the desert near Los Angeles.

Did you saw this kind of machinery somewhere else ?

Inauguration of an american pneumatic network

Maybe, if you are 160 years old, in some municipalities or in banks. Few of them in Europe used the same system to make the paperwork faster and less tiring. The difference, beside the size of the tunnel, is the manual way to send the capsule. Other scientists thought about adapting it to a human’s size, like the american inventor Alfred Ely Beach. We can even go further in time and say that the first Hyperloop design has been made by Hero of Alexandria, 20 centuries ago when he imagined the pneumatic cannon.

So, why don’t we have it yet ?

The feasability of the Hyperloop still need to be proven, many obstacles are in the scientists’ way to create a viable prototype. The main problem is the material used to build the tunnel, it has to be cheap and extremely resistant to pressure and to environment. After you chased the air out of the tunnel (What is already a big challenge regarding the amount of air to vacuum), the atmospheric difference put a huge pressure on the tube coming from the outside, around 10 tons per square meter !

Plus, if there is a breach caused by pressure, environment issues or even terrorism, then the air from outside would come in the tube at the speed of sound. There would remains only teeth and hairs from the passengers in all the tube !

Even if you manage to find resistant material, it also have to resist to a 15 tons shuttle coming at 1200km/h, because if the air inside the tube has any defect (caused by the heat that change the air density for example), the shuttle would be expulsed and break the tunnel like candy. A journey to the moon for the price of a Los Angeles-San Francisco trip ! (without round trip…). And by the way, you cannot use steel: It’s melting under the heat and cause a lot of problems.

If, at the end, you solved all your problems, you have to solve the age-old question: Where to find the money you need to build all of this ? For many economics ressources professor like Michael Anderson from the university of California Berkeley, this project would cost more like 100$ billions instead of 6 planned by Elon Musk.

Is Elon Musk a thinker or a dreamer ?

The main difference between these two kind of people, is that the thinker connect his taught with logic and reason, while the dreamer stay passive. To think means existing, we have to build, reflect, and if we are wrong, we have to stop. A dreamer wouldn’t stop.
Perhaps Elon Musk is only a businessman that cannot push the science to its limits like other great minds, that’s why we have to be careful with the people we are following, to make the difference between thinkers and dreamer or we will end up the same way Elon Musk wants to die: On Mars, but during the landing !

Post Author: Jonathan Scatena