In his TED2013 talk, Robert Gordon points out that in 1900, human beings could only travel as fast as a horse could pull them in a buggy, but by 1960, we could travel at 80% of the speed of sound, thanks to the Boeing 707. Since 1960, though, the needle on how fast we can travel hasn’t moved at all. But this could change.
Elon Musk: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity …Just now, fellow TED2013 speaker Elon Musk unveiled more details of his much-discussed blue-sky idea: the Hyperloop, a system to carry passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco, 382 miles or 615 km, in about 35 minutes — less than half the time it takes to fly between the two cities. While early rumors suggested the Hyperloop might connect Los Angeles and New York, and even New York and China, the alpha plans of the highly speculative system are focused in California, as a provocative response to a $68.4 billion high-speed rail plan to connect the state’s two largest coastal cities. As specced, that high-speed rail system would be only slightly cheaper than flying — and would take about twice as long, at 2 hours, 40 minutes. (Of course, right now, the train between Oakland and Los Angeles takes a cool 12 hours, 10 minutes.)
Musk’s Hyperloop is an aboveground system — long tubes set atop pylons — that could run alongside highways. The system would run capsules that hold 28 passengers each through the tubes, departing every two minutes. These capsules contain compressor fans in their nose that form a cushion of air underneath them.
“Wheels don’t work very well at [700 mph], but a cushion of air does,” the plans read. “Air bearings, which use the same basic principle as an air hockey table, have been demonstrated to work at speeds of Mach 1.1 with very low friction.”