Hyperloop Unveiled: Elon Musk Tells All

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Tesla Motors ( TSLA) CEO Elon Musk unveiled his design for his ultra-fast transportation, the Hyperloop, and is it ever a doozy.

In an exclusive to BusinessWeek, Musk revealed it would change the status quo of transporting people between cities that are 1,000 miles between each other. It would transport people using aluminum pods inside steel tubes. He described it as being similar to a shotgun with tubes side by side and closing at both ends of the loop. The tubes are mounted on columns and could ship people as fast as 800 miles per hour.

Musk first became focused on the Hyperloop when hearing details of California's high-speed rail system, which is slated to start this year yet could cost as much as $100 billion.

On Tesla's conference call discussion second-quarter earnings, Musk said that he had put himself into a corner by mentioning the Hyperloop, but that Tesla shareholders wouldn't immediately benefit from the system. "I think I kind of shot myself if I ever mentioning Hyperloop, because obviously I have to focus on core Tesla business and SpaceX business and that's more than enough," Musk said on the call.

"But I did commit to publishing a design and provide quite a detailed design I think on Monday and then invite critical feedback and see if the people can find ways to improve it and then you can just be out there as kind of like a open source design that maybe you can keep improving and I don't have any plan to execute, because I must remain focused on SpaceX and Tesla," Musk continued saying on Tesla's earnings call. "If nothing happens for a few years, with that I mean maybe it could make sense to make the halfway path with Tesla involvement, but I would say is you shouldn't be speculative."

The enigmatic Tesla, PayPal and SpaceX co-founder believes the Hyperloop, which would closely follow California's I-5 highway, could be built for as little as $6 billion if it transported people only, or $10 billion if it transported cars as well as people.

Earlier Monday, Musk tweeted that he had been up all night working on the design of the transport system.

The cost of a ticker on the Hyperloop could be as little as one-tenth the cost on the high-speed rail train, and according to Musk, "much cheaper" than a plane ride.

Here is Musk's blog in full detail describing the Hyperloop.

When the California "high speed" rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL - doing incredible things like indexing all the world's knowledge and putting rovers on Mars - would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world? Note, I am hedging my statement slightly by saying "one of". The head of the California high speed rail project called me to complain that it wasn't the very slowest bullet train nor the very most expensive per mile.

The underlying motive for a statewide mass transit system is a good one. It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving. The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?

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

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? Many ideas for a system with most of those properties have been proposed and should be acknowledged, reaching as far back as Robert Goddard's to proposals in recent decades by the Rand Corporation and ET3.

Unfortunately, none of these have panned out. As things stand today, there is not even a short distance demonstration system operating in test pilot mode anywhere in the world, let alone something that is robust enough for public transit. They all possess, it would seem, one or more fatal flaws that prevent them from coming to fruition.

Constraining the Problem

The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart. Around that inflection point, I suspect that supersonic air travel ends up being faster and cheaper. With a high enough altitude and the right geometry, the sonic boom noise on the ground would be no louder than current airliners, so that isn't a showstopper. Also, a quiet supersonic plane immediately solves every long distance city pair without the need for a vast new worldwide infrastructure.

However, for a sub several hundred mile journey, having a supersonic plane is rather pointless, as you would spend almost all your time slowly ascending and descending and very little time at cruise speed. In order to go fast, you need to be at high altitude where the air density drops exponentially, as air at sea level becomes as thick as molasses (not literally, but you get the picture) as you approach sonic velocity.

-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

>Contact by Email.

More from Technology

Amazon, Microsoft and Google Face Backlash over ICE, Military Deals

Amazon, Microsoft and Google Face Backlash over ICE, Military Deals

As Intel Loses Its CEO, How Well Can It Compete Against Nvidia?

As Intel Loses Its CEO, How Well Can It Compete Against Nvidia?

3 Great Stock Market Sectors Millennials Should Invest In

3 Great Stock Market Sectors Millennials Should Invest In

Video: What Oprah's Content Partnership With Apple Means for the Rest of Tech

Video: What Oprah's Content Partnership With Apple Means for the Rest of Tech

3 Must Reads on the Market From TheStreet's Top Columnists

3 Must Reads on the Market From TheStreet's Top Columnists