Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has pulled back the curtain on the initial plans for his much-anticipated Hyperloop -- a high-speed way for people to travel between nearby cities. What he's come up with is about as fascinating as one might imagine.
In Musk's vision, the Hyperloop would transport people via aluminum pods enclosed inside of steel tubes. He describes the design as looking like a shotgun with the tubes running side by side for most of the journey and closing the loop at either end. These tubes would be mounted on columns 50 to 100 yards apart, and the pods inside would travel up to 800 miles per hour.
The Hyperloop could essentially link cities that are less than 1,000 miles apart with high amounts of commuter traffic between them. The system could transport passengers as well as vehicles. Musk's initial idea was to create a high-speed link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Prior to releasing the plans, Musk estimated that such a journey on the Hyperloop could take only about 30 minutes.
In terms of safety, Musk says each pod should travel about five miles apart. That means there could be about 70 pods traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco, leaving every 30 seconds, according to BusinessWeek.
While Musk previously noted that he's too busy with Tesla and his space travel startup SpaceX to manage the Hyperloop, he estimates that the Hyperloop could be built for $6 billion for people-only pods or $10 billion for larger pods that could also hold cars. Tickets could be "much cheaper" than a plane ride.
Of course, questions remain: Can it be built? And, if so, will it? In our lifetimes? California first set up an authority to plan for a high-speed rail system linking L.A. And San Francisco in 1996. The first phase of that project, from Fresno to Bakersfield, isn't expected to be done until 2017. Most of the project won't be finished until 2028.
Musk may be able to get us to San Francisco in 30 minutes, but it may take decades to get to that point.