The Hyperloop Pros and Cons
A paper discussing the viability and potential marketability of Elon Musk's Hyperloop....
Sam Krausz English 1001 Kevin Honold The Hyperloop: A New Frontier of Travel
Imagine that you are a businessman in Los Angeles, California trying to make a big deal with a client in San Francisco. Your client is getting very close to signing the deal, but you feel that an in-person meeting with said client would ensure that a deal would be made quickly. But what is the best way to get there? You could take a car, drive for five hours and forty minutes, and pay about $35 in gas money to get there. You could take a one hour and twelve minute flight from LAX to SFO for about $73 one way according to the latest Google Flights info. Or, you could take a new form of transportation called the Hyperloop and be in San Francisco in thirtyfive minutes – and for only about $20. With the Hyperloop as an option, the choice would be obvious. But what is this Hyperloop? Now, place yourself at a bank making a check deposit the old-fashioned way – where you put your check into a capsule that gets sucked through a vacuum tube to the front desk. The Hyperloop is the same “vacuum tube” – on a much larger and faster scale – for humans. As an added bonus, this method of transportation would require a relatively miniscule amount of energy, allowing the capsules and tubes to be completely powered by solar electricity. This in turn drives down operational costs and ticket prices. Because of its feasibility, economic benefit, and environmental benefit, the Hyperloop is a smart investment for America to make at this time. The Hyperloop is a concept that was originally introduced to the world in 2013 by billionaire multi-CEO Elon Musk (Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors) in his fifty-seven paged
document called simply Hyperloop Alpha. His inspiration behind setting this concept in motion was the extremely costly and failing efforts to build a publicly funded high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In trying to find a less costly, faster, and more environmentally friendly form of transportation, the idea of the Hyperloop was born. The Hyperloop essentially consists of capsules shooting through frictionless vacuum tubes. The capsules would virtually float on contraptions called “air bearings” and, in order to counter the syringe-like effect of a capsule going through a tube with little room between the outside of the capsule and inside of the tube, there would be a small electric compressor at the front of each capsule actively relieving air pressure. This allows the capsules to travel at a sweet spot of about 760 miles per hour for medium distances. The capsules themselves would have a more compact, but ultimately more comfortable feel than airplanes. The seats would have to be more reclined and more comfortable to account for accelerations and each passenger would have a personal entertainment system. (Musk 14) The capsules would hold a minimum of twenty-eight people and depart in two-minute (or faster) successions from different gates, allowing for plenty of boarding time. Each section of tube would actually be two tubes, one on top of the other, to allow for simultaneous travel in two directions. The Hyperloop seeks to be an environmentally conscious, comfortable, affordable, and ultra-fast alternative to the wheels and jet propulsion that transport us today. (Musk 1-5) Though the Hyperloop sounds in both name and concept like something straight out of a science fiction novel, the project is becoming more feasible as more time passes. Immediately after Elon Musk published Hyperloop Alpha, the document and the entire concept were put under intense scrutiny by publications all over the nation. One article from Travel Weekly Magazine is titled simply “Loopy”. While not writing the concept off as being completely ludicrous, this article pointed out some practical problems that the Hyperloop would present that would need to
be fixed before this form of transport could be adopted. The author points out, “The vehicles would be barely four and a half feet wide. Passengers would sit two abreast, and each would enter and exit directly to the outside. There would be no aisle, and no rest room. Once you sit down, you’re there for the duration.” (Loopy) Now at first glance, this sounds horrendous. Our thoughts immediately turn to other long distance travel like planes, where the thought of not having a bathroom is awful. But then again, the main goal of the Hyperloop is to be a plane-like transporter with the style of a simple commuter tool. With thirty-five minutes between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the commute is shorter than many Los Angeles citizens commute to work by car, shorter than many New York City citizens commute by subway, and shorter than many college students commute to school by bus. No one raises a fuss about those forms of transportation not having bathrooms, so why should the Hyperloop have to deal with the pressure? Perhaps for longer journeys, a bathroom would make more sense, but another theory with the Hyperloop is that the longer the journey is, the higher the speeds could be, which means that the longest journey that could possibly be made in the United States (Los Angeles to New York) could potentially only be an hour. (Musk 5) A few months after the “Loopy” article was written, an article appeared in Mechanical Engineering magazine that put more confidence in the Hyperloop’s feasibility. This article, called “Investigating Hyperloop’s Viability”, focuses on numbers to suggest that the Hyperloop is feasible. The article reads, “Although the system would use linear motor stators 2.5 miles long weighing more than 3,000 tons to accelerate a capsule to 760 mph… the entire system would use an average of just 21 MW drawn from a solar array covering the upper surface of the two Hyperloop tubes.” (Kosowatz 2) Therefore, this article was aimed to pique the interest of
engineers who could eventually want to put their own time and investment into the project, pushing the concept and feasibility forward still. Finally, another article was published on March 3rd, 2015 titled “The Hyperloop: Is the future of travel here?” This article unveils that a startup group for the Hyperloop is planning to build a five-mile test track in California. The project will be funded by an IPO on the stock market in late 2015 and construction will start in early 2016. There are even plans to build a functional town around the test track. (Murphy) The Hyperloop will be moving out of the conceptual phase and into the physical testing phase very soon. Putting the goal version of the Hyperloop in the context of other presently available and implemented forms of transport, the Hyperloop would provide many highly effective economic benefits because of the great speed and the low price. Let us first consider speed. The average speed limit on an interstate highway in the United States is sixty-five miles per hour. The average speed of a high-speed rail line is 150 miles per hour. The average speed of a commercial airliner is five hundred knots, or about 425 miles per hour. (Henscher) The speed of the Hyperloop for medium-length distances is aimed to be about 760 miles per hour (Musk 33), which blows away all of the other forms of transportation that currently exist. As well, Elon Musk claims that the longer the distance the Hyperloop travels, the higher it could accelerate. This means that with a reasonable ticket price, the Hyperloop could eventually completely replace domestic airline travel and make obsolete the very costly concept of the high-speed rail. The Hyperloop would provide citizens with a fluid and relaxed way to move about the entire country within time frames never before thought possible, opening up many new opportunities for business and work commutes.
Second, the Hyperloop would provide huge cost benefits to the economy. In Hyperloop Alpha, Musk draws a direct comparison to the California high-speed rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco. He states that the proposed ticket price for a one-way ride on the rail line is $105 based on the $68.4 billion it will cost to build the rail and then the amount it will cost to operate and maintain it. (Musk 8) The ride time for the rail will be more than an hour longer than a $73 plane ticket, and will cost three times that of a car ride. In the case of the Hyperloop, building the track and the capsules will be about $60 billion less than the high-speed rail, (Musk 24) and the energy costs are so much lower than that of cars or trains or planes, and the personnel required to operate the system (no driver needed, etc) is so low, that the proposed ticket price for a thirty-five minute commute between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be $20. (Musk 56) That kind of a cost vs. time template opens up huge travel possibilities. San Francisco Giants fans could take an easy day trip to see their team play the Dodgers. Couples from Los Angeles could make a minor splurge and go to San Francisco for a nice dinner and a walk on the Golden Gate before returning to their own home that same night. Businesses in the two cities could set up same-day meetings at restaurants in either town. The possibilities are endless. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Hyperloop would provide revolutionary environmental benefits because of its very low use of energy and its dedication to using only green forms of power. Elon Musk provides a chart on page nine of his Hyperloop Alpha that outlines the amount of power used to transport a passenger a certain distance according to six different forms of transportation: car, motorcycle, airplane, train, Tesla Model S (electric car), and Hyperloop. This chart shows the Hyperloop to use one-fourth the energy of cars, one-fifth the energy of planes, and still slightly less than Musk’s own electric supercar. Therefore, unlike planes where much of the money put into a ticket price is the gas that fuels the plane, the
Hyperloop will have no such fee. In fact, for over 90% of a Hyperloop pod’s journey, it simply coasts, using no energy at all except for a small air compression motor at the front of each capsule. (Musk 56) Moreover, perhaps the most environmentally friendly initiative of this entire project is the plan to cover each section of tubing along the Hyperloop route with solar panels, which Musk claims could keep the Hyperloop running day and night, summer and winter, with excess energy. (Musk 5) Therefore, no coal or other forms of dirty energy would be used to power this form of transportation. The Hyperloop could also start the ball rolling on other green forms of transportation depending on its level of assimilation into daily American life and commercial appeal. Elon Musk is, in many people’s opinion, the single biggest force behind the adoption of green energy today, and his Hyperloop may be, even more so than the Tesla, the catalyst for radical change in how people move about the world. It has the financial appeal of a car with the speed appeal of a plane and the environmental appeal of a regular train, but with a new and supercharged twist. On another note about the good environmental impact that the Hyperloop would make, a certain amount of urgency is needed to start building green transportation methods. BP gasoline recently made a flawed calculation stating that the earth has fifty-three years of oil left. As a reply article points out, those numbers are based on current “proved reserves”. (Crowe) This means that we have fifty-three years worth of oil to take from reserves that have already been discovered, however, the amount of economically recoverable resources and technically recoverable resources in place dwarf the amount of oil in proved reserves today. The article states that “we have enough oil to last us over 100 years at current production levels” and that if they include “more complicated oil reserves such as kerogen deposits, then we may have more
than 250 years of oil supply.” (Crowe) So, 250 years is the highest possible estimate of how much oil we have left. That may sound like a long time considering everyone living now will be dead by then, but let’s consider how long the process is to completely lose our dependence on oil – certainly longer than a lifetime. And the longer of a process we make this transition, the easier it will be. Therefore, the implementation of the Hyperloop would provide a much-needed push toward fossil fuel independence that could potentially save the world from a major energy crisis. In conclusion, the Hyperloop presents itself as a great investment for America to make at this time because of how close it is to reality using today’s technology, its possible effects on the economy, and its possible effects on the environment. Imagine a world where a concert pianist can give a performance in New York and Los Angeles in the same day, or where gasoline motors become unpopular because the Hyperloop influenced car industries to start putting their faith into green engineering, or where people from all over the country can take a day trip to Colorado to ski if they want to. A world of possibility could be opening up in the near future because of the Hyperloop, and the human race should be eager and excited to explore.
I. Hensher, David A., and Kenneth Button. Handbook of Transport and the Environment. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2003. Print. II. Kosowatz, John. "Investigating Hyperloop's Viability." Mechanical Engineering-CIME 1 Jan. 2014: n. pag.12 Web. 5 Mar. 2015. III. Murphy, Mark. "The Hyperloop: Is the Future of Travel Here?" Fox News. FOX News Network, 03 Mar. 2015. Web. 05 Mar. 2015. . IV. "Loopy." Travel Weekly 2 Sept. 2013: 32. Business Insights: Global. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. V. Musk, Elon. Hyperloop Alpha. SpaceX. Tesla Motors/SpaceX, n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. . VI. Crowe, Tyler. "We Have Way More Than 53 Years' Worth of Oil Left." The Motley Fool. The Motley Fool, 2 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 Mar. 2015. .