Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Elon Musk's Hyperloop Train: Soon to Be a Reality?

One of the main features of transportation that I mention in my upcoming novel, Sumire, is the MagLev trains that run in evacuated tubes. Long a dream of every futurism-minded person, the MagLev (standing for magnetic levitation) is a bullet train that runs off the track, slightly levitating due to the polar opposites of the wheels and the track. This technology already exists. In fact, test rides can be had on an experimental track not far from Tokyo. But a test track for evacuated tubes, or hyperloop trains as Elon Musk is branding them, does not exist.

elon musk hyperloop trainMoving on, the maximum speed of a current MagLev train is not a whole lot faster than a conventional bullet train. Physicists and fans of the MagLev lore will know that it's not the friction on the track that's keeping the trains from going faster, it's the air resistance.

Haans Petruschke, the top commentor on NPR's recent story about the hyperloop trains, explains the mechanics of it all much more clearly (and correctly) than I can:

The whole idea, in fact Musk's modality, is leveraging existing technology rather than developing anything radically new. This is what he has done at Tesla and SpaceX. 
There is no magnetic levitation. No super conduction or cryogenics that would require. This is a rectangular capsule pushing itself through a round tube evacuated to .015 psi. It compresses the air at the front and shoots it out the back to create thrust, retaining some of the compressed air for the air bearings. The air bearings are used to keep the capsule away from the walls of the tube. The linear motors are to provide boost where the compressor cannot produce sufficient thrust. 
The whole thing gets its electricity from solar cells on top of the tubes. The capsule have battery packs that are changed out for recharging.
I don't think anyone involved in the story is really getting this. Everyone is jumping to conclusions without actually reading and comprehending the proposal.

So, the next step is to put these magnetic trains in an evacuated tube and pump oxygen into the cabin like we do in airplanes. When this is achieved the trains can theoretically reach speeds of 800 miles per hour. Imagine going from Seoul to L.A., watching Cloud Atlas, wondering why they're not using hyperloops in New Seoul, and then having an ice cream on Santa Monica pier to let Sonmi's manifesto really sink in. Imagine the possibilities.

Of course, the infrastructure would be tremendously expensive and governments would have to subsidize some of the costs for this to become a reality any time soon.

Or...megarich tech tycoons like Elon Musk -- as wealthy as some governments himself -- could throw some of their chips into the mix.

We have all the necessary technology to do this, so look forward to it soon. What do you think about the prospect of these hyperloop trains? Are you worried, like some people, about safety? Are you expecting them to be out of your price range, a fanciful luxury for only the rich? Or are you optimistic? Let me know in the comments below. One thing I do know is the prospect of this tech, along with hyper-sonic flight, make for an ever more connected future world.

If you are interested, please preview the first chapter of my novel, Sumire, here. It is scheduled to be released in the fall or winter of 2013.

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1 comment:

  1. I loved the comment of that guy on NPR. He sounded like a total hyperloop nerd. Good job, man.


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