In a keynote interview at the Texas Transportation Forum last Thursday, Tesla Motors CEO/SpaceX founder/mega-entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled plans to move his concept for an ultra-fast, air-powered transportation system a little closer to reality. Known as the Hyperloop, Musk hopes to fund a five-mile test track somewhere in Texas for further development by “companies and student teams.”

Musk followed the announcement with a series of tweets, including one that mentions “an annual student Hyperloop pod racer competition, like Formula SAE”.

Musk has described the Hyperloop as a combination of the Concorde supersonic jet, a railgun, and an air hockey table. Basically, the concept employs a series of tubes at partial vacuum to move passengers about in self-contained capsules. Thanks to extremely low air-resistance, these capsules are said to be capable of speeds up to 760 mph. Musk hopes this technology will enable travelers to make a run from Los Angeles to San Francisco, a 354-mile journey, in about half an hour.

It’s been a year and a half since Musk outlined his concept in a 58-page PDF, but given the fact that he runs some of the most innovative transportation companies in the world, it’s probably safe to say he’s been a bit busy. No word has been given on the exact date for the test track’s construction, but you can bet there are more than a few geek teams out there already working on their pods at this very moment.

Click past the jump to read more about Musk’s 5-Mile Hyperloop Test Track.

Why it matters

The biggest hurdle to achieving speeds like those proposed for the Hyperloop is friction, both in terms of air-resistance and rolling-resistance. Back in the 70s, the RAND Corporation proposed a system using a magnetically levitated train moving through a total vacuum to circumvent these factors, rendering theoretical speeds up to 5,000 mph. However, there were several problems with the concept, including the maintenance of a vacuum over the span of hundreds of miles and the cost of magnetic levitation.

The Hyperloop is similar in design, but improves on the “vactrain” concept in such a way as to make it far more feasible. Instead of a total vacuum, the Hyperloop operates in a partial vacuum, lowering air resistance significantly, while levitation is achieved using a cushion of air, which completely eliminates rolling resistance.

As can be imagined, there are still monumental challenges facing the idea. However, with a working test track, the development process for passenger pods can be outsourced, transforming the process for working out the fine details into a competition, similar to Formula SAE.

For those who don’t know, Formula SAE challenges student teams to build a prototype race car aimed at the non-professional weekend autocrosser. Nightmares of Jar Jar Binks notwithstanding, the idea for a “podracer competition” is immensely cool, and would undoubtedly help usher the Hyperloop into existence.

Source: TheVerge

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