by Rod D. Martin
June 3, 2015
Two years after Elon Musk announced a new “fifth mode of transportation,” a lot has happened, however quietly. Some of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs are putting significant time – and in some cases cash – into making it a reality.
You remember the hyperloop, don’t you? It’s that far-out idea billionaire industrialist Elon Musk proposed in a 58-page white paper in August 2013 for a vacuum-tube transport network that could hurtle passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles at 760 miles an hour.
Hyperloop has the potential to completely change the way we live and do business. The hyperloop would render “high speed” rail obsolete, and a lot of regional air travel unprofitable at best. Communities that are five hours apart by car would become a breezy 30 minute commute, transforming our understanding of community and distance like nothing in more than half a century. The amount of wealth creation resulting from its widespread adoption, for that very reason, is virtually inestimable.
It’s hard to overstate how early this all is. There are dozens of engineering and logistical challenges that need solving, from earthquake-proofing to rights-of-way to alleviating the barf factor that comes with flying through a tube at transonic speeds.
Yet it’s equally hard to overstate how dramatically the hyperloop could change the world. The first four modes of modern transportation–boats, trains, motor vehicles and airplanes–brought progress and prosperity. They also brought pollution, congestion, delay and death. The hyperloop, which Musk dubs “the fifth mode,” would be as fast as a plane, cheaper than a train and continuously available in any weather while emitting no carbon from the tailpipe. If people could get from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 20 minutes, or New York to Philly in 10, cities become metro stops and borders evaporate, along with housing price imbalances and overcrowding.
This raises all sorts of issues, some very positive (like what real estate should we buy cheap now), some quite disturbing (what does “evaporating borders” mean for federalism and sovereignty and a host of other things?). But what is certain is this: hyperloop is real. It’s not clear when, or who, or how. But it’s coming. And it’s going to change everything.