Paypal founder Elon Musk has revealed plans for a radical new “hyperloop” transport system that could “shoot” passengers 380 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.
Travellers enter aluminium pods mounted by skis either to their feet or to their cars.
The pods, mounted above the ground on columns 50 to 100 yards apart, travel through steel tubes, reaching speeds of up to 800 mph and travelling on a cushion of air.
Elon Musk, who is also behind electric car firm Tesla and space company SpaceX, says the system could be built for less than a high speed rail link.
He told Bloomberg Business Week the system would be “like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland”.
“It would have less lateral acceleration – which is what tends to make people feel motion sick – than a subway ride, as the pod banks against the tube like an airplane,” he said.
“It would feel supersmooth.”
“The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart,” Elon Musk claimed.
Elon Musk boasted on Twitter he has been working on the plan all night after promising to release the details today, creating massive speculation online over its technology.
“Pulled all nighter working on Hyperloop (as did others),” he tweeted.
“Hopefully not too many mistakes.”
Elon Musk said he started thinking about the idea when plans for a 130 mph (210 km/h) high-speed train connection between LA and San Francisco were revealed, but now he has detailed his own version on Tesla’s site.
“I originally started thinking about [Hyperloop] when I read about California’s high-speed rail project which was somewhat disappointing,” he told a Google Hangout with Richard Branson last week.
“It’s actually worse than taking the plane. I get a little sad when things are not getting better in the future.
“Another example would be like the Concorde being retired and the fact there is no supersonic passenger transport. I think that is sad. You want the future to be better than the past, or at least I do.”
Elon Musk made his fortune with the internet payment system PayPal before switching his skills into developing the new Falcon rocket system for NASA and the Tesla electric car.
HE claims Hyperloop would be a practical solution for city pairs separated by 1,000 miles (1,600 km) or less. Beyond this distance, it would be better to take a plane, he explained.
But for the shorter distance, Elon Musk’s new concept would beat the plane, he argues, because it would not waste time ascending and descending.
“You want a transport system that is roughly twice as fast as the next best alternative, that costs less, that is safer, that is not subject to weather and is more convenient,” Elon Musk said.
“If there were such a thing, I think most people would take it. In fact, it would increase the travel between the city pairs because of the increased convenience.”
Experts say Elon Musk’s track record could help the plan become a reality.
“Hyperloop is quite an old science fiction idea but Elon Musk is the sort of man who could make it work,” said physicist Martin Archer from Imperial College London.
“He’s the guy who made electric cars go fast with Tesla, which many people didn’t think would be possible; and he’s the head of SpaceX which is the only commercial rocket builder that has managed to hook up with the International Space Station.”
Elon Musk says he will leave it to others to build the system initially.
“I have to focus on core Tesla business and SpaceX business, and that’s more than enough,” he told investors of Tesla, his electric car firm.
“If nothing happens for a few years, with that I mean maybe it could make sense to make the halfway path with Tesla involvement,” Elon Musk said.
“Hyperloop consists of a low pressure tube with capsules that are transported at both low and high speeds throughout the length of the tube,” Elon Musk said in an exhaustive paper detailing the system posted online.
“The capsules are supported on a cushion of air.”
Each of the capsules is pressurized, and Elon Musk says they have an emergency braking system as well as a reserve air supply in the event of an emergency.
The entrepreneur admits the scheme came from a disdain for current systems.
“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?”
Elon Musk claims the scheme can power itself through solar energy.
“By placing solar panels on top of the tube, the Hyperloop can generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate.
“This takes into account storing enough energy in battery packs to operate at night and for periods of extended cloudy weather,” he claims.
Elon Musk estimates the overall cost of the tube, pillars, vacuum pumps and stations will be $4.06 billion for the passenger version of Hyperloop, and $5.31 billion for the larger version capable of sending cargo and even cars.
Elon Musk says a route from LA to San Francisco could be running within seven years.
“It could happen at least 4-5 years after a working prototype is developed, so 7-10 years away,” he told reporters.
“That’s comparable timing to the rail project.”
Elon Musk also said he may develop a prototype system himself, despite previously claiming he would leave it to others.
“I’ve sort of come around a little bit on my thinking here,” he said.