Environment

The Way You Transport Yourself Is About to Be Revolutionized

June 15th 2015

By:
Alex Mierjeski

Word got out Monday that the development of the next-big-thing-in-transportation, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk's "hyperloop" high-speed tube transport system, could be taking a giant step forward: Musk's company, SpaceX, is building a hyperloop prototype near the company's California offices. 

In documents obtained by Motherboard, SpaceX explained its plans to construct a one to three-mile-long hyperloop test track, ultimately bringing the futuristic system one step closer to materialization. Up until this point, Musk, who conceived of the idea as a "fifth mode of transportation" back in 2012, hasn't been involved with plans to develop it. 

"SpaceX will be constructing a sub-scale test track (inner diameter between 4 and 5 feet; length approximately 1 mile) adjacent to its Hawthorne, California headquarters," the company wrote in an outline of the plan. The documents also outlined a competition to build "pods," which would shuttle cargo (people, goods, cars) through a vast tube system at speeds reaching 760 miles per hour. 

Musk has been behind a number of forward-thinking tech companies and projects, such as Tesla Motors, and SolarCity. SpaceX, which focuses on spaceflight and building a program to send people to Mars, joined two private companies already working on hyperloop technology, the original plans and designs for which were open-sourced. SpaceX has also invited students and engineers to join the competition to design a hyperloop pod, Wired reports. 

According to Motherboard, Musk has said that for cities less than 900 miles apart, hyperloop technology could provide a much more efficient mode of transport as faster, cheaper, and cleaner than air or train travel. Traveling at just under the speed of sound, a passenger going between Los Angeles and San Francisco would only need around 35 minutes. 

The company has no specific plans for commercial construction, Motherboard notes, but wishes to encourage innovation and foster a collaborative approach to building a feasible hyperloop.

"We are excited that a handful of private companies have chosen to pursue this effort," SpaceX told Motherboard. "While we are not developing a commercial hyperloops ourselves, we are interested in helping to accelerate development of a functional hyperloop prototype." 

The contest to develop pods outlined in the documents will be held at Texas A&M University in January, 2016, and the winning designs will be tested on the SpaceX hyperloop track that summer, without passengers. SpaceX plans to test the technology within a year, according to the documents.