Teleportation Anyone?Where are the cool new transportation ideas?
21 August 2013

by tmartin on August 21, 2013

WHEN YOU TALK transformational technologies, it really comes down to a handful — health, communication, and transportation among them.

Health?

Well, we’ve seen a century of dramatic change, where things that sounded like wild dreams in 1950  – bionic ears (http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/coch.aspx), mind-controlled wheel chairs (http://gizmodo.com/193641/mind-controlled-wheelchair), cameras-in-a-pill that record the innards and send the data back wirelessly (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM04443)  — barely cause a blink today.

Communication?

The rise of the Internet, mobile technologies, crowd-sourcing, ubiquitous broadband … the list of technologies that have changed our societal interactions with information and with each other just continues to grow.

Combined, they’ve created a global village, where anyone anywhere lies just a click away and where the dynamics of interconnection among us were barely imaginable in 1950.

Transportation?

We have trains and cars and boats and planes. We have bikes and skates.

Jump back in time to 1950 and we have …

Trains and cars and boats and planes. And bikes and skates. Oh and rockets, too.

Our vehicles’ visual designs changed over the past half century or so.  They became a bit more aerodynamic and their materials a bit lighter — but when you step back for a moment, it sure looks as if transportation has stayed pretty statics. Heck, we even use the same fuels: human power, dead dinosaurs, and, occasionally, wind.

That’s why I find people like Elon Musk (http://elonmusk.com) refreshing. He showed up in the news again recently for his audacious-sounding plan for The Hyperloop.

Musk, if you aren’t familiar with him, made a gazillion dollars or so as one of the founders of the company that eventually became Paypal.  The idea of doing consumer level online financial transactions was, at the time, considered unrealistic.

He then set his sights on space – literally.

In one of the few sexy transportation plays, he created SpaceX (http://www.spacex.com), with a modest goal of revolutionizing space technology to eventually enable people to live on other planets. With 3,000 employees and working vehicles – including reusable rockets – the company can no longer be tossed off with eye rolling about impossible ideas.

Musk then turned to land transportation, creating Tesla Motors (http://www.teslamotors.com) – which rethought transportation by rethinking fuel. Instead of incremental changes to 80 year old designs, the company baldly announced itself as the electric car company. Period.

In January, the automotive industry’s leading publication, Motor Trend named the Tesla Model S as 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, calling it “proof positive that American can still make (great) things.” (http://www.motortrend.com/oftheyear/car/1301_2013_motor_trend_car_of_the_year_tesla_model_s/viewall.html).

In May, Consumer Reports sang the car’s praise, with a score of 99 out of 100, raving over its handling, quality, and efficiency. The last car to receive a 99 score from the group was the 2007 Toyota Lexus LS460L.

And, this week, the same vehicle won top spot for safety, too. Telsa’s Model X ranked better than any other US vehicle on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests.

All of which should put the final blows to years of conventional wisdom and “belief” that anything other than traditional gas car engines would be too slow, too small, not safe, and unreliable.

A few days ago Musk stirred up the waters again, as he broadcasted his concept of the hyperloop. The hyperloop looks at getting between two large urban centers – LA and San Francisco — in a new way.

California’s big dollar tag proposed high speed rail system triggered the project. In response tothat proposal, Musk wrote a 50-plus page outline (http://www.teslamotors.com/sites/default/files/blog_images/hyperloop-alpha.pdf) stating:

If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive. Compared to the alternatives, it should ideally be:

  • Safer
  • Faster
  • Lower cost
  • More convenient
  • Immune to weather
  • Sustainably self-powering
  • Resistant to Earthquakes
  • Not disruptive to those along the route
  • And then asking:

    Is there truly a new mode of transport – a fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats – that meets those criteria and is practical to implement?

    Of course, he answers with a loud and clear

    “YES.”

    He envisions a low pressure tube that shoots pods at high speeds from Point A to Point B. A bit like the pneumatic tubes that shot 100,000 letters a day – and even a cat! – around New York in the 1890s (http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/paleofuture/files/2013/03/1914-pneumatic-tube.jpg), except the pods carry people. Specifically, they carry people between LA and San Francisco in 45 minutes.

    He’s even included sketches:

    Tagged as: hyperloop, transportation

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