The Hyperloop is a proposed transport system for use between distances less than 1500km apart, primarily between major cities. Musk says it could transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco (approximately 615km) in around 30 minutes.
It would involve electric-powered passenger-pods travelling through a tube system, using a fan at the front of each pod to transfer high-pressure air from front to rear. This air-pressure management system would allow the Hyperloop to travel faster than the Kantrowitz Limit, a law governing the top speed a pod can travel in ratio to the tube it is within.
The electric power would come from a motor similar to that used in the Tesla Model S, rolled flat to fit inside the pod. Solar panels on top of the tube would help generate enough electricity to even operate the Hyperloop at night or during extended periods of cloudy weather.
While Musk was drafting the Hyperloop he revealed a few details that allowed John Gardi, an interested follower of Musk, to create his own proposal for the project.
Gardi came up with an elevated tube system, using something similar to lightweight sewer pipes, and designed to be twice as strong as it would need to be for safety’s sake. Gardi also noted that the Hyperloop would need to be built on both public and leased private land.
Musk’s proposal reveals a rather convincing critique of existing modes of transport. He does not believe that boats, cars, planes and trains are redundant – his involvement with Tesla signals his confidence in automotive transport, and he spends quite some time justifying the legitimacy of supersonic planes for travel across vast distances. However, for journeys less than 1500km – a distance across which supersonic planes make little sense, cars cover relatively slowly, and for which high-speed train projects demand exorbitant costs and pose too many safety risks – Musk believes something better can be developed.
The Hyperloop was first mentioned over a year ago, and Musk plans to publish his proposal so that interested parties can improve upon it. If it all sounds a bit fanciful, keep in mind Musk sold his first computer program at age 12, co-founded PayPal, and has become a billionaire in the time since - impressive credentials by any standard. In the meantime, he should be kept busy enough between Tesla, his SpaceX project, and any other groundbreaking transport innovations he can come up with on the side.