In 2012, Elon Musk casually mentioned he had an idea for a revolutionary new transportation system that could carry a passenger from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. That's about 382 miles or 615 kilometers. He also mentioned it would be reliable and use solar power. He called it the Hyperloop.
A year later, we learned a few more details about this revolutionary method of transportation. The Hyperloop would be a pod (essentially a train) that travels inside a tube on air-bearing skis.
Vents would remove most of the air from the tube, greatly reducing air pressure and wind resistance. Electromagnetic propulsion would allow trains to travel without friction. It sounded like a really neat — and expensive — idea.
In January 2015, Musk again caused a disturbance in the Force when he casually tweeted the following:
Then, in June, The Atlantic reported that SpaceX would sponsor a year-long competition for the best Hyperloop pod design. The pods would travel down a mile-long test track near SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles. SpaceX and Musk aren't directly involved in developing the idea beyond offering support and the test infrastructure. A select few teams will get to test out their pods this summer on the California track.
Meanwhile, a few startups are also working on building out test tracks. Hyperloop Technologies Inc. (the company is not owned by SpaceX or Musk) announced that its test track in Las Vegas, Nevada, will be operational in the first quarter of 2016. If that's the case, it will become the first test track for the Hyperloop concept.
Will the Hyperloop succeed? It faces some pretty hefty engineering challenges. Creating a reliable, safe and efficient rival to high-speed trains is no small feat. But if it works out, it could disrupt the travel industry and create thousands of jobs from construction to operations. We'd be on board with that.