“It’s a cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table.”
Now that the media kerfuffle surrounding Elon Musk‘s Hyperloop transit system proposal has settled down to a dull roar, it’s a good time to step back and consider in detail some of the real innovations and difficult issues raised through analysis of the 57-page Hyperloop plan.
The shortest description of the Hyperloop is Musk’s own bon mot: “It’s a cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table.”
A slightly more complete description of the concept is that of an elevated, reduced-pressure tube that contains pressurized capsules driven within the tube by a number of linear electric motors. These capsules move with very little friction or drag owing to air bearings that ride on the inner surface of the tube, and a combination of active and passive means to reduce the negative effects of choked airflow on the transportation system.
In this article I am only considering the science and engineering aspects of the Hyperloop. While acknowledging that political issues may actually determine its fate, what concerns us here is whether or not it could work.
A Quick Overview
A reaction many people have to the Hyperloop is that there is nothing new here. While it’s fair to say that all inventors are standing on the shoulders of giants to a certain degree, there are in fact very real innovations in Musk’s proposal.
The Hyperloop has essentially no relationship with the old pneumatic tube transports beyond a certain similarity of appearance. There is, however, quite a bit of overlap with earlier proposals for reduced pressure or vacuum-tube transports. In particular, the early theoretical and experimental work ofRobert Goddard, the inventor of the liquid fuel rocket, appears to have the greatest overlap with the Hyperloop.
Goddard’s notes about reduced pressure transports sat in storage for over 30 years, only surfacing after his death in 1945. In US patent 2,511,979, he describes nearly every major feature of the Hyperloop save for the use of linear electric motors for propulsion (he preferred using reaction motors for propulsion), and using special apparatus to minimize the detrimental effects of choked airflow around the capsules. Goddard also described the use of air bearings, but of a very different sort than proposed for the Hyperloop. Many others, of course, have suggested the use of linear electric motors.
To sum up, it would appear that the main innovations in the Hyperloop proposal are the type of air bearings used to reduce friction forces on the moving capsules, and design elements that avoid the limitations encountered when the airflow around the capsules is choked. Let’s take a closer look at these additions.
The Latest on: Hyperloop
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- Chamber of Commerce hopeful Missouri will get Hyperloop on December 14, 2017 at 4:39 pm
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- History Suggests the Hyperloop Is an Uncertain Promise for Future Cities on December 10, 2017 at 7:00 am
Proponents of Hyperloop have repeatedly suggested that their transportation technology will create new “mega-regions,” essentially reshaping the scope of cities. Multiple startups are now striving to defy critics and connect different dots on maps. […]
- NOACA board votes to explore possible Hyperloop partnership in competition with Columbus proposal on December 8, 2017 at 4:25 pm
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Cleveland could soon be in competition with Columbus on developing the first Hyperloop route in Ohio that would zoom people and cargo to other cities through a system resembling large-scale pneumatic tubes. The board of the Northeast Ohio ... […]
- Now There's Even a Hyperloop Think Tank on December 6, 2017 at 4:00 pm
The Hyperloop became a thing some four years ago when Elon Musk first talked about whisking passenger-carrying pods through evacuated tubes at near-sonic speeds. It has since followed the natural progression from notion to concept to idea…to think tank. […]
- Hyperloop cofounder Pishevar takes leaves after harassment allegations on December 5, 2017 at 10:50 am
SAN FRANCISCO — Less than a week after being hit with claims that he sexually harassed six women, Virgin Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar said Tuesday he was taking a leave of absence from his businesses to focus on a lawsuit against a ... […]
- Hyperloop One co-founder takes leave to pursue defamation lawsuit on December 4, 2017 at 11:24 pm
Prominent Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar is distancing himself from his venture capital firm and startup to pursue a defamation lawsuit. Pishevar, an investor in companies like Uber and Airbnb, issued a statement on Tuesday that ... […]
- Hyperloop One Co-Founder Says Harassment Claims Are a ‘Smear Campaign’ on December 2, 2017 at 9:42 pm
Sherpa Ventures founder and Hyperloop One Co-Executive Chairman Shervin Pishevar has denied recent allegations of sexual misconduct, calling them part of a “smear campaign.” The allegations, including accusations of misconduct against five unnamed ... […]
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