It did not take long for critics to pour scorn on Elon Musk’s most recent hyperloop announcement, delivered via Twitter and claiming that verbal approval had been given for an underground New York to Philadelphia hyperloop line.
Admittedly, Musk was a little light on the details – there was no real information on the deal, nor the individual or official body who supposedly gave the verbal green light.
The BBC called the announcement ‘hyperbolic’ while other publications like the Guardian rushed to list a number of government and regulatory bodies who denied any such approval had been made. Many are debating the motivation behind such vague tweets – sales pitch for investment, or a genuine regulatory milestone?
Although the lack of substance behind Musk’s tweets does justify some level of scepticism, many are forgetting that Musk has already gone a long way to transform the automotive and transport industry – so why can’t he go one further with hyperloop?
“Elon Musk has a habit of dreaming up the impossible, and then making it happen,” PatSnap’s Ray Chohan told CBR.
“Battery powered cars? Impossible. A privately held space exploration company? Impossible. A 760mph underground transport system? Impossible. Or is it?”
“Musk has already proven that he can achieve high speed travel through SpaceX, and has shown that he can bring his ideas from his imagination into full commercial production with Tesla, which manufactured over 80,000 cars in 2016.”
In essence, the hyperloop is a train which Musk has previously explained as being “a cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table”. Tubes will connect cities, with said tubes propelling pods via magnetic accelerators at over 700 mph. When complete it could get people from London to Edinburgh, or LA to San Francisco, in just 30 minutes.
Hyperloop’s current problems are two fold – one being the technology, the other being regulatory support. Looking at Musk’s tweets, he is obviously confident of getting that regulatory approval needed for a project of this size. Critics will slam the lack of detail and bring up a roster of people denying such claims, but it says a lot when an established CEO makes such a statement in front of shareholders, customers and the rest of the Twitter-sphere.
The technology has its own critics, after all Hyperloop is a first-of-its-kind concept revolving around levitating pods and vacuum tubes. It is easy for people to mock something new, something hard to explain and something that breaks new, crazy barriers. However, hyperloop is far from the concept stage, with its patent activity testament to the fact that the technology is evolving and being developed continuously. Each patent is another step forward in making hyperloop a reality.
“Looking at Hyperloop Technologies Inc. patent filings, the company has been innovating at a rapid rate – from 0 patents filed in 2015, to 45 applications in 2016,” Mr Chohan said.
“Their most recent patent (US20170146136A1) was published on May 25th 2017, and covers “Gate Valves and Airlocks for a Transportation System.” It is a continuation of one of their previous patent filings, which means that it builds on the technology described in the first patent.”
“This patent reveals that the company is making significant progress towards the system of valves and airlocks which will eventually be used to propel Hyperloop’s transport pods through its tunnels. It seems like the futuristic promise of public transport at 760mph is well on its way to becoming a reality.”
Not only is the technology evolving and moving closer to reality, but Musk’s commitment to the evolving transport industry is an astute move based on changing demands from consumers.
As Toby Kernon at Wagonex told CBR, Elon Musk’s confidence in the future of transport “proves the electrifying speed at which consumer’s perception of transportation and vehicle ownership is changing too, as we gradually move away from traditional ownership forms and become more reliant upon improved public transport systems and alternatives to outright car ownership to get us from a-to-b.”
I am aware that this article is starting to look like an ode to Elon Musk, but I choose to believe that Musk can deliver on Hyperloop. Yes, the tweet may have been ill-judged without any formal approval backing it, but it is indicative of the confidence Musk has in the project.
After all, a vote of confidence from the man behind Tesla and SpaceX should have more people betting on the technology becoming a reality.
“With a journey time which is currently estimated at 29 minutes, Hyperloop is set to revolutionise the route from NY to DC,” said Mr Kernon, “and with Elon Musk already changing the landscape of electric vehicles, space with Space X and now Hyperloop he continues to challenge vehicle and transport norms – who knows what’s next”.