The man who is said to have inspired Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of “Iron Man” in the movies made a big teaser announcement this week. Entrepreneur Elon Musk (co-founder of PayPal and founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX) proclaimed that he will reveal the alpha design of a transportation system he says will become the fifth key mode of transportation in the world (after cars, planes, trains, and boats). He calls it the Hyperloop, and he describes it as "a cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table." We’ll have to wait until August 12th to find out what exactly that means, but educated guessers believe it will be passenger-carrying pods that will travel in sealed tubes, floating by magnetic levitation or something similar, perhaps in a surrounding zone of fast-moving air. Musk envisions the Hyperloop being built across the continent, so that you could travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just minutes, and from there to New York City in under an hour.
Fast? Yeah, you could say that. So does that mean it will be a game-changer, bringing about a new world of mobility? Maybe. But I’m not really convinced that faster always means better. A few minutes of thought made me to realize there are many things the Hyperloop won’t help, like:
- the two-hour drive to your cottage/camp that becomes five hours on a Friday night.
- the high-polluting, gas-guzzling journey your vegetables make from California to your dinner table.
- the family vacation trip that doesn’t include Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York City.
- the price of gasoline (do you think lower demand on a few long distance routes will convince oil companies to lower prices? Seriously?)
- the billboard advertising industry.
- your accumulation of frequent flyer points.
- lost luggage (it will just get to other cities without you much faster.)
In fact, the Hyperloop could outright destroy:
- excuses not to visit relatives you don’t like.
- scenery-watching (and any true, personal grasp of geography.)
- all hope of escaping the psycho ex-girlfriend.
- your last chance to catch up on your reading.
- the road trip movie (OK, some of these will be good things.)
I’m sure you can come up with dozens more like this. Either way, Musk claims the Hyperloop will cost much less to build than high speed rail, and I am in favour of getting as many trucks and cars off the road as possible. So, Mr. Musk, I’ll be watching on August 12th to see what you’ve come up with, and if any partners are ready to jump aboard with you.
And, really, work on the lost luggage thing while you’re at it, OK?