Elon Musk has a dream: shuttling people, inside a tube much like the one you use at the drive-thru window at your local bank, from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. At 700+ miles per hour. If that sounds like a science fiction concept, that’s because it is. But if anyone is capable of turning fiction into reality, it’s Musk, who has already figured out how to make relatively successful businesses out of electric vehicles and private space flight—two very young industries fraught with technical difficulties. Yesterday Musk unveiled an “alpha” plan for this tube transportation, called the Hyperloop, and explained how he got interested in this kind of transportation infrastructure project:
When the California “high speed” rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL – doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars – would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?…The underlying motive for a statewide mass transit system is a good one. It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving. The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive.
Via Meadia knows little about how to keep hundreds of miles of tubing at low pressure, or how to launch rockets in to space, but we do have one thing in common with Musk: we think California’s high speed rail project is destined for failure. In fact, because of projects like the Hyperloop, the state’s massively expensive infrastructure project is going to be obsolete by the time it’s built (if that ever happens).Musk was careful to note that he’s not actually planning on building the Hyperloop (though he did tell reporters that he “probably will” build a demonstration of the system, to be completed some time in the next three to four years). The designs are still very speculative at this point, but the idea speaks to the kind of vision that put a man on the moon or built the first automobile. Musk’s point—that if we’re going to spend massively on new infrastructure, it should be demonstrably worth it—is well taken.That being said, we should be diverting more of our resources toward beefing up infostructure rather than infrastructure. The transition to a post-industrial economy entails new kinds of public works projects. In that economy we’ll be less concerned with building and manipulating things; we should likewise be more interested in the efficient transportation of ideas than of people.[Elon Musk image courtesy of Brian Solis]