Shutterstock

Elon Musk imagines a cheap, faster-than-a-plane, weather-immune, crash-impervious people-mover.

Trains are slow. Planes are unwieldy. Cars are, er, pedestrian. What if there were another way - a better way - for people to travel over long distances?

Elon Musk, he of PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX fame, thinks he has that way. And it is a notional vehicle that can carry people between Los Angeles and San Francisco ... in 30 minutes flat.

He calls it "the Hyperloop."

"We have planes, trains, automobiles and boats," Musk told Sarah Lacey at a PandoDaily event in Los Angeles. So: "What if there was a fifth mode?"

So, wait. Would this be "something like a Jetsons tunnel, you just get in and it whisks you away?" Lacey asked.

And you know what? Yes! Yes, it would!

The Hyperloop would be three or four times faster than a bullet train, Musk said, and twice as fast as an airplane. It would be powered by solar panels. It would be "immune to weather." It would be unable to crash. 

Per Business Insider's transcript of the PandoDaily event:

This system I have in mind, how would you like something that can never crash, is immune to weather, it goes 3 or 4 times faster than the bullet train... it goes an average speed of twice what an aircraft would do. You would go from downtown L.A. to downtown San Francisco in under 30 minutes. It would cost you much less than an air ticket than any other mode of transport. I think we could actually make it self-powering if you put solar panels on it, you generate more power than you would consume in the system. There's a way to store the power so it would run 24/7 without using batteries. Yes, this is possible, absolutely.

Well, first of all: YES, PLEASE. Second of all, though: What? A cheap, faster-than-a-plane, weather-immune, crash-impervious people-mover? There's a pretty good reason we can't travel between LA and SF in 30 minutes, which is that we can't travel between LA and SF in 30 minutes. The challenges here are enormous. And what would the Hyperloop actually look like? Google's geektastic monorail capsules? A tunnel? A pod? A series of pods?

Those questions are for later, though. For now, it's the idea that counts. Musk might patent the Hyperloop concept, he said, and then open up its implementation to "anyone who can make a credible case that they can do it." So the Hyperloop really could be anything. [Though: fingers crossed for a series of pods.] Then again, Musk has a pretty great track record of turning the whimsical into the actual -- and of, in general, saying nay to the naysayers. SpaceX and Tesla and even PayPal are testaments to what can happen when you encounter limitations and - quickly! cheaply! easily! - whisk them away.

Photo credit: Konstantin Sutyagin /Shutterstock

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Don’t Throw It Away—Take It to the Repair Cafe

    This series of workshops aims to keep broken items out of the landfill, and it might help you save a few bucks, too.

  2. POV

    What ‘Skyscraper’ Doesn’t Get About Skyscrapers

    The Rock’s new movie should have gotten more thrills out of high-rise design, an engineer argues.

  3. An illustration shows two alleys in Detroit.
    Design

    Finding the Untapped Potential of Alleys

    “We’re starting to realize they’re just as powerful as a park or plaza.”

  4. POV

    Can Cities Shape the Automated Future?

    Urban spaces are the testing grounds for the automation revolution. Will they destroy our jobs, or just make new and better ones?

  5. A neon sign spells out "66" on historic Route 66.
    Life

    Get Your Kicks Biking Route 66

    Cyclists are now rolling on U.S. Bike Route 66 in Missouri and Kansas, the first stretch of a route planned for the whole length of the historic 2,400-mile highway.