Thursday, August 22, 2013

Elon Musk's Hyperloop is Bold and Ambitious

Perhaps you've heard of the recently proposed revolutionary transportation system dubbed the Hyperloop.  No?  Google it.  The vast majority of posts on the topic that I have read go beyond mere skepticism and describe the project as just short of impossible.  What is it about dreamers that brings out the haters?

The Hyperloop was described by its inventor, Elon Musk, as "a cross between a Concord, a rail gun and an air hockey table."  Picture those hollow tubes that shuttle documents through offices by way of air pressure (in movies - I've never actually seen one in real life, but I assume they exist).  Now enlarge the diameter of the tube, replace the tiny capsules with pods containing passengers, and have the ends connect two distant cities, and you begin to grasp Musk's intriguing mass-transit system.

The initial proposal calls for a train that links Los Angeles and San Francisco - the specs call for a thirty-five minute shuttle time each way.  The distance between the two cities is about 600 km.  Is this beginning to sound like a high-school mechanics problem?  Let's spice it up a bit and stipulate a 0.2 g acceleration from rest to cruise and 0.2 g deceleration from cruise to rest.  Try to calculate the cruise speed...