Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

August 15, 2013

Is Musk's idea sci-fi or reality?

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The concept sounds like something from the comic books that billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk read religiously as a boy: a capsule that speeds along as fast as sound, carrying people between major cities, never troubled by bad weather or turbulence.

If Musk has his way, this will be a reality within a decade.

Coming from almost anyone else, the hyperbole would be hard to take seriously. But Musk has a track record of success. He co-founded online payment service PayPal, electric luxury carmaker Tesla Motors Inc. and the rocket-building company SpaceX.

On Monday, he unveiled a transportation concept that he said could whisk passengers the nearly 400 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes — half the time it takes an airplane.

If it’s ever built.

His “Hyperloop” system for travel between major cities is akin to the pneumatic tubes that transport capsules stuffed with paperwork in older buildings.

In this case, the cargo would be people, reclining for a ride that would start with a force of acceleration like an airplane but smooth out from there.

Capsules would catapult through a large, nearly air-free tube at more than 700 mph. Inside, they would be pulled down the line by magnetic attraction.

Each capsule would float on a thin cushion of air it creates — like an air hockey table in which the puck produces the air instead of the surface. To minimize friction, a powerful fan at the front would suck what air is in the tube to the rear.

“Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment,” Musk wrote in his proposal, which was posted online at http://www.spacex.com/hyperloop .

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