Tesla Motors is designing what could be a ‘fifth form of transportation’, claimed to be more efficient than trains, planes, automobiles and boats.

Elon Musk's Hyperloop: the ‘fifth form of transportation’?


Having co-founded PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk is still far from running out of inventive ideas. The latest news is that the entrepreneur who envisages sending the first men to Mars also wants to revolutionize ground transportation. His electric vehicle company, Tesla, is already working on the prototype for a new means of transport called Hyperloop. Musk spoke about his plans for the first time in July 2012, but he has just announced that the first actual design plans will be published in early August. The Hyperloop, said to be capable of linking San Francisco with Los Angeles in just 30 minutes, has excited general curiosity. Its inventor compares it to a “cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table”.

Californian rail system dismissed as ‘costly and inefficient’

Elon Musk got the idea for the Hyperloop when he was closely studying the Californian rail system. The California High-Speed Rail Authority is currently working on the development of a new high-speed line to link San Francisco and Los Angeles. The project, which is scheduled for completion in 2029, with trains capable of travelling at over 200 miles per hour linking the two cities in under three hours, is set to cost more than $60 billion. The United States has never enjoyed a reputation for high-quality rail networks, but Elon Musk is especially critical of the new venture. He argues that this California project for the first US high-speed rail system is both the most costly and the least efficient in the world. The Hyperloop is being touted as an alternative, not only to the train, but also to other means of transport, in terms of both cost and efficiency.

5thmode of transport set to supplant the others?

As yet, very little detail has emerged about the technology envisaged by Elon Musk, but the major principles are known. A tunnel would be built containing a high-powered column of air capable of driving capsules at around 1,000 km/h. A magnetic linear accelerator and decelerator would control the speed of the vehicles, while a magnetic levitation system means that no rails are required. The Hyperloop would run on solar energy, travelling twice as fast as an airplane, unaffected by any climatic conditions and also perfectly safe. According to Musk’s current estimates, this hybrid system would only cost $6 billion to link Los Angeles and San Francisco, while the cost of the solar energy would be so low that the price of a San Francisco-Los Angeles ticket would be less than the airfare or even the total cost of a car journey. The icing on the cake for the innovation community is that the Hyperloop is planned to be an open source creation, so that a wide range of contributors could play their part.


By Alice Gillet
English editorial manager