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Elon Musk – Hyper Or Just Plain Loopy?



August 16, 2013 – Comments (1)

A pneumatic tube that shoots 28 people from SF to LA in 30 minutes at a cost of $20 per ticket.

Elon Musk is at it again.

Before you runoff at the mouth, I require you to read the darn thing first. No, you cannot have an informed opinion based on just a punky little news item you read on the internet.

Go to the Hyperloop page here, where you will find the intro. Then, click on the link at the bottom of the page, which opens a 57 page PDF document where you will find all of the geeky details.



OK, story time. When I was teenager in LA in the 70's, I would deposit my summer job paychecks on the way home at a bank that had drive-up tellers. You would pull up to a short kiosk that had an intercom to talk to the teller. I opened up the little door, take out the cylinder and put my signed paycheck in, put back the cylinder, close the door, and press the button. It would instantly disappear and go to the teller. A minute later, the cylinder would reappear. You opened the door, took your receipt/money out of the cylinder, and put it back. Done and done, drive off, and the teller would say thank you and have a nice day.

I realize that the good Mr Musk cites pneumatic mail delivery systems in NY skyscrapers in days of yore, but he has never used one, nor does he present evidence that he talked to people who actually used them about reliability or convenience or how they liked them. I have, and they seemed to work just fine.



I have read the document, and it is difficult to view it as a serious proposal. It strikes me more as a graphic novel, kinda like one of those comic book things in Japan that explains complex things, like how a business makes money. One gets the feeling that he just plugged in the $$$ of a few off-the-shelf components into an Excel spreadsheet, plugged in some standard construction materials into an earthquake software simulation package (kinda like the ones where newbie engineers use without understanding the limitations of said simulation thereby getting into big trouble if a senior engineer is not around to put the kibosh on his simulation), diddled around with Google Maps a bit, and had a graphic designer assemble the document.


Page 4 is where he steps in the doggie-doo: “The approach that I believe would overcome the Kantrowitz limit is...” He presents no evidence that this is so (in high school debate, we called this a “fiat”). No reference to a published paper in a fluid dynamics journal, no evidence that he actually tried the experiment.

Pages 27-31 has some really purdy pictures, but unless he tells us what engineering parameters and software package he used, these are literally worthless.

He presents no evidence that the air bearing concept still holds up at the Kantrowitz limit.

He presents no evidence that the combination of the air bearing plus a fudge on the K limit can carry loads he proposes: 28 adults plus baggage, let alone also including 3 SUVs (?!?).

there is zero information about practical things like: contractor sub-performance, environmental wackos (including but not limited to California's numerous EPA-like agencies), cost overruns, right-of-way challenges, and who would finance the goofy thing.

However, discounting the good Mr. Musk is done at one's peril, witness: BMW (i3), Mercedes (SLS AMG), GM (Volt), Nissan (Leaf), Orbital Science (Cygnus), Sierra Nevada (Dream Chaser), and Boeing (CST-100).



Viewed as a PR offensive, it succeeded brilliantly. He hinted at it weeks in advance, and once he posted his PDF essay, everyone talked about it (witness this blog posting). Its raison d'etre seems to be to throw yet more mud at California's brand-new, shiny, high-speed choo-choo train (whose first leg of construction goes from nowhere [20 miles north of Fresno] to nowhere [50 miles north of Bakersfield]). If this is the goal, he succeeded in spades (reference to a card game; Google it). He even managed to provoke a rather terse and childish rebuke from the “California High Speed Rail Authority”, not mention numerous journalists.

Nicely done, Mr. Musk.


1 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On August 16, 2013 at 12:26 AM, awallejr (52.41) wrote:

Actually this is something I think worth pursuing.  Just not sold on the Tesla.

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