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What Is the Hyperloop?

The internet has been buzzing with news of the first Hyperloop test. But what, exactly, is the hyperloop?

By
Eric Escobar,
May 19, 2016
Episode #221

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Trains, Tubes, and Magnets

Let’s first take a 10,000 foot view of what exactly the Hyperloop is. In 2013, Elon Musk first made his idea of the Hyperloop public. If you recognize that name, that’s because I’ve mentioned him in my podcast on the Tesla Powerwall. He’s the founder of many tech giants, such as Tesla, PayPal, SpaceX, and zip2. He’s a pretty extraordinary billionaire, which I’m sure we will see much more of in the years to come.

The Hyperloop is similar to the small vacuum tubes that can be found at banks and retail stores that are often used to move money quickly in sealed containers. Now if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I’ve posted a link in the show notes to one of these small vacuum tubes working. Now the concept is to make the tubes and capsules much larger in order to carry passengers and maybe even other vehicles.

Instead of using just air pressure alone to move, the Hyperloop will have similar technology to bullet trains that use magnets to propel themselves forward. The tube that the Hyperloop will travel through will have some of the air pumped out of it. This will allow the capsule to travel through much more easily without having to deal with a significant amount of air pressure.

The air that is left over in the tube will be pushed downward to create a cushion of air underneath the capsule. It works like an air hockey puck to glide effortlessly. If we take a step back, this type of travel eliminates friction everywhere. There’s very little friction due to air in the tube, and there’s almost no friction along the bottom of the capsule. Thinking back to high school physics, friction is what slows things down. The more friction on moving parts, like in wheels and your car pushing air around it, means much more energy is needed to move forward. Because the Hyperloop has an extreme lack of friction means that it can move extremely quickly, and be incredibly energy efficient.

You might be wondering how quickly it can move. Well, estimates put it at 760 miles per hour (1200km/hr). That’s insanely fast, we’re talking Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 35 minutes, (That's normally a 6 hour car drive, or 1 hour flight!).

Where Will It Be?

Now I just gave it away, but the Hyperloop is planned to link Los Angeles and San Francisco. There’s no official plan on this at all yet, but that’s been thrown around as a stated first roll out publicly. Ultimately, if everything goes according to Elon Musk, it will then spread everywhere.

What I think is incredible is this vision of the hyperloop is not just for Earth but also a vision that Elon Musk has for Mars. He’s also the founder of SpaceX which is planning to send manned launches to Mars. This means that there is also a plan to use this similar technology as possible travel on Mars, which (because there is no atmosphere) would mean that no tubes would be required. Granted this is far, far off into the future.

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