Elon Musk’s idea for the creation of the Hyperloop transport system is not a crazy (or technically his) idea, but it is the logical evolution of high-speed rail and could be a boon to a domestic economy, both by creating jobs in its construction and maintenance and by morphing our idea of acceptable commute distances.
The Hyperloop (a vacuum tube based, supersonic electromagnetic rail system) is said to be able to take 30 minutes to go from San Francisco to LA, a trip that would normally take over 5 hours.
A cross-country Hyperloop could go from New York to LA in 2 hours. This is because inside the tubes there is minimal friction and the ability to hit speeds of Mach 2 (two times the speed of sound or about 2400 kph) or higher comes easily. Powered by the sun with energy stored in super-capacitors, the cost would be negligible to run; however, building the infrastructure for a smaller line from San Francisco to LA would cost about around 6 billion dollars.
You may be thinking this is great for a lot of actors and movie producers but what effects would Hyperloop’s have on the rest of the world?
Supersonic passenger travel is an old idea, theorized and designed in the early 60’s and 70’s. The Hyperloop itself is based on a paper published over thirty years ago.
By 1969, the world witnessed the first flight of a supersonic passenger jet. This was the Concorde – the spawn of a cutting edge venture between Air France and British Airways. My grandfather flew on it before it was retired. I still have some of the in flight British Airways, Concorde branded memorabilia he handed over to me as a child. He said the in flight experience was “rock solid”, you couldn’t perceive how fast you were going, there was no turbulence and he didn’t forget to mention how awesome it was to say you used the bathroom at the speed of sound. Supersonic indeed.
The Concorde transported 2 million passengers in its twenty plus year lifespan with regular flights from New York to London in 3 hours (a distance of over 5000km).
That is akin to going across Canada in about 3 hours or from Vancouver to Hong Kong in 6 hours.
Plans for more supersonic passenger planes like the Boeing 2707 and Lockheed L2000 were scrapped in the late 70’s citing economic concerns (there was also concern of damage or noise created by the sonic boom – easily avoided by transitioning supersonic speeds at high altitude).
With computer simulations and the updated engines of today, the Concorde design would easily double its range and efficiency and add a host of amenities for it’s passenger. Wi-Fi at 55,000+ feet anyone?
For the naysayers that doubt the safety record of the Concorde – stop – it was the safest jet ever flown. It’s demise came at the hands of runway debris, a downturn in the market post 911 and a business model that was unsustainable at the time.
With upgraded technology and smarter business models the state of commercial aeronautics is ripe for change.
Have we stagnated?
The speed of travel has always been linked to humanity’s progress. There was a time when horse-drawn carriages and steamships revolutionized the world. The exchange of ideas and cultures has always accelerated technological innovation, and expanded economies. There is little doubt that trade has benefited humanity beyond pure financial need by increasing our level of cooperation with one another leading us to a more peaceful world.
In the past hundred years we harnessed the power of flight and its ability to make trips that used to take a month would be completed in a day. We’ve gone to the Moon, we’ve flown craft to Mars and we even have vehicles on the verge of leaving our solar system for the first time.
Despite all these breakthroughs, it appears we have become accustomed to the status quo of travel for too long. The next step for us is traveling to and from countries on opposite ends of the earth within a couple of hours for a reasonable price.
The pace of the technological world today makes the current process of travel seem anachronistic.
The internet helps us communicate instantly around the world which has been a great stop-gap solution to physical travel; however, getting to know each other by immersing ourselves in each other’s cultures via business trips and vacations is a wholly different experience in comparison to the cold hard glow of lcd panels.
There are challenges. The airline industry struggles in its current form with increasingly bogged down airport security and multiple stop overs which make travel a more arduous process then it needs to be.
Canada is a huge country, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to visit family and friends in other cities in as much time as you are used to being in a car commuting to work every day? Right now it’s an impossibility. The cost of fuel alone has made flight in general a losing business model, but this is precisely why we need a leap in technology to enliven the industry.
On-board amenities and electronics have improved, so has engine efficiency and aerodynamic design thanks to modern-day computer modelling. The higher you fly, the less efficient those old combustion engines become the more efficient electric options become. Instead of zigzagging vacuum tubes across the land, how about slapping together some Tesla Model S battery packs for high altitude electric fan powered flight?
What the world needs is the ability to have people explore and leverage their dollar to elevate each other’s economy while enriching their lives. With the advent of cost-effective supersonic air travel, the airline industry would experience growth while new disruptive hospitality models like AirBnB would thrive. Local and struggling economies would get a sorely needed boost while people would gain a better understanding and appreciation of the cultures this planet has to offer. The world needs supersonic commerce yesterday.
Check out the “Son of the Concorde” – a hypersonic passenger plane in the works.