Home News Featured Blogs Jim Zemlin Hyperloop: The Promise is in the Project’s Approach

Hyperloop: The Promise is in the Project’s Approach

Entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk this week shocked and awed us with an innovative design for what transportation could look like in the not too distant future. He proposes a solar-powered, aluminum pod that moves with pressurized air through a tube at about 800 miles per hour.

Crazy? Maybe but so have been many of the ideas proposed by the smartest people in history before their concepts became part of our everyday lives.

What’s most interesting to me and what I think reinforces a common theme among entrepreneurs and inventors of our time is how Musk is approaching this project:

Hyperloop is a new mode of transport that seeks to change this paradigm by being both fast and inexpensive for people and goods. Hyperloop is also unique in that it is an open design concept, similar to Linux. Feedback is desired from the community that can help advance the Hyperloop design and bring it from concept to reality. - - Hyperloop Alpha, Page 6

The approach sounds familiar. Twenty-two years ago this month Linux creator Linus Torvalds posted his “crazy” idea on the web:

“I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby won’t be big and professional like gnu)...I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome....”

Musk knows from Linus’ experience and his own that this approach works. He has leveraged collaborative development and Linux for both Tesla and SpaceX. SpaceX uses Linux for mission control, among other things, and Tesla uses it for its In-Vehicle-Infotainment (IVI).

This open design and solicitation for feedback is one of the primary ways that Musk can propose this solution at 11X less the cost ($6B) of the transportation system currently proposed by the State of California ($70B). It will also result in less time to build the system and faster speeds and efficiencies once it is built. Lower cost, accelerated pace of development and more innovation are the benefits of collaborative development. Thanks to Linux and the path it blazed for collaborative development, today we know that by sharing ideas, technology can be spread and is adopted much more rapidly.

Musk is among the greatest inventors and innovators of modern time: Torvalds created a free and open operating system that would run most of modern day society; Berners-Lee chose not to patent the WWW, opening up a communications vehicle that would radicalize the way we interact as a global community; and Zuckerberg took the “Hacker Way” philosophy to innovate on top of both Linux and the web to build what today is the most visited website in the world. These geniuses know that no matter how high their IQ, they don’t hold all the answers needed to transform the world - but the community does.

This week we also saw a lot of naysayers respond to Musk’s proposal. We certainly experienced this with Linux in the early days. As for Hyperloop, regardless of what we see come to fruition, whether the exact plan for Hyperloop as it’s described today or something different, opening up the design and calling on others to contribute and participate will accelerate development for a transportation system that costs less and outperforms existing technology.

Read more at Jim Zemlin's Blog


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  • nate Said:

    Solved the problems with the Kantrowitz Limit in his white paper and even filed a patent. This can be done.

  • Olgrumpfy Said:

    At first I thought, "NO! There are too many problems with this." and there are major issues with the initial overview. However, now I have lost 2 nights' sleep as my crazy brain mulls over possible options, I may have found a few options, which will make such a system very cheap indeed. My problem is, once I submit the suggestions, sime of the information will be, in my opinion, dangerous in open forum. So what can be done?

  • ken Said:

    "Poor mans copyright " write down your suggestions or ideas on paper get it notarized about $3 or $4, make a copy of the original. take the original and mail it to yourself, when you get it in the mail do not open it , this way your idea is dated and stamped by the US post office and this is proof that the idea is yours, now you can take the copy and submit it to this website if you choose.

  • Olgrumpfy Said:

    I am not interested in making money out of this. My agenda is altruistic. Typical Brit, you see.......... I have found a way to phrase my opinions without getting too detailed. Here is and overview Q&A, based on a UK Press Article. The answers are specifically aimed at a possible UK implementation. The following has been promulgated on line by me: The leading paragraphs are excerpts from the Press Article. The latter paragraphs are my opinions. __________________________________________________________________________________ Heat damage Compressing air and expelling it can produce heat, which could potentially damage the capsule and the surrounding tube. Musk predicts cooling the air from temperatures of 283 degrees C after compression and that temperatures of around 125 degrees C will be created immediately beneath the skis. Sam Jaffe, a senior research analyst at Navigant Research, said that pods would need to carry quite large coolant systems to counteract this. This would increase their weight and reduce their efficiency. He said: "The biggest concern with this plan has to do with temperature. The pod will be compressing air and expelling it downwards and backwards. "All that air compression creates an enormous amount of heat, which can damage the pod and its machinery. "Musk’s solution is to add to each pod a water tank that will capture that heat and turn it into steam to be collected at the next station. "Although the thermodynamic calculations are correct, a small pod with only a few cubic feet of room for a heat exchanger leaves little space for an efficient exchange of heat. "That means that the flow of water must be increased, requiring a lot more water on board. There may be an elegant solution for this challenge, but it’s not in Musk’s current paper." Possible Solution: Compression does not need to be complicated. Using standard Venturi techniques, the air in front of the travelling capsule may be compressed to 1/10th of its cross sectional area by the same process which Dyson makes his vaneless fan work. The same phenomenon is used to inflate Airbus escape chutes, so there is no patent inhibition. To quantify this: assume a 3m diameter capsule. The air in front can be compressed to a 30cm diameter, just using the Venturi dynamics. Heat dissipation is relatively simple. By reducing the output aperture of the compression tunnels, sudden expulsion into a lower pressure environment will automatically cool the airflow. This is how many cooling systems work. If a small turbine is included in the output of the compression tunnel, that will act sufficiently loke a nozzle to cool the airflow, while providing, at high speeds, a very significant power generation capability! =============================================================== Wind stress Tall structures are prone to wind shear – just ask any sky-scraper architect. The differences in wind strength at the top of a building compared to the bottom can place large forces on them and cause them to sway, if not appropriately designed. Musk proposes building the Hyperloop tube and its solar panels on top of pillars ranging from 20 feet to 100 feet. In analysis for Navigant Research, Mr Jaffe said: "Wind stress is another challenge. "Any structure elevated 100 feet off the ground is going to be under a lot of wind pressure, which will act on it in weird and sometimes multiple directions. "If that structure is a heavy tube stretching hundreds of miles in either direction, you effectively have a big sail. Will the concrete pylons be powerful enough to resist that pressure?" UK Solution: The question to ask is, WHY does it have to be raised? Whilst that may be a problem in America, it is not necessarily a problem elsewhere! In the UK and other heavily built-up countries, short supports in banked and drained cuttings would probably be environmentally preferable. These could be landscaped in the standard railway fashion. The banks would go a long way to eliminating extraneous noise. To even out gradients and to bridge watercourses, the traditional viaduct is expected to be acceptable. ================================================================ Energy supply Musk proposes using solar panels mounted on top of the tubes to provide the energy required to power the Hyperloop. John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the MIT Technology Review, that he had reservations about the energy it would require. He said: "It would be enormously expensive." “My questions aren’t could you do it, but could you do it in a way that makes sense from an energy efficiency standpoint and makes sense from an economic standpoint.” He added that Musk's proposal to use Tesla electric vehicle batteries to suck air in through the front of the pod, compress it and force it out through skis on the bottom required a lot of energy. He said it was unclear whether the batteries would hold enough energy to do this for the entire trip. ================================================================ Musk assumes using linear motors to drive the capsules, but, as already discovered by the old British Rail, such systems are horrifically power hungry. Alternative non reactive drive options need exploration. The two, which spring to mind are based on magnetic field repulsion. It is well known that when two magnets collide, not only does Newtonian Inertia occur (think about that annoying clicking desk toy!) but also the latent energy released by the compression of the magnetic fields, which more or less quadruples the energy released to the free magnet. So a simple electromagnetic repulsion impulse train could be implemented to accelerate the capsule within the tube. This system might need a hydraulic initiation sequence at the commencement of journeys, but that is simple and not significantly expensive, in terms of the overall cost of running this sort of transport system. Using rotating magnetic fields greatly increases the energy transfer to the capsule, which means the magnet fields used could be quite a bit smaller than the static impulse option. This reduces the power requirement quite considerably, since only power to rotate the capsule magnet would be needed and this could be confined to static rotating magnetic fields in the tube infrastructure. In other words, the capsule could be, in terms of motive power and air compression, passive. It should be emphasised in this section, that the bulk of energy, used to drive the capsules would be latent in form, greatly minimising the external power requirements (now there’s a good mixed metaphor!) ================================================================ G-forces Provided the capsules are accelerated slowly, then the forces exerted on humans inside the capsules should actually be fairly low. No more than that of a sports car, according to Musk. However, the tubes would need to be as flat as possible and without any steep corners to ensure those forces stay low. If the capsule banks with the corners then any additional g-force will be applied vertically down through the capsule, making the ride more comfortable. ================================================================ Design Solutions: The use of magnetic impulse drives would certainly cause the system to be somewhat jerky, with the possibility of unacceptable passenger discomfort. However, by using electromagnetic fields as opposed to fixed magnetic fields, it should be relatively easy, in engineering terms, to minimise such problems. Including capsule motion monitors in the control circuitry should provide a fairly standard acceleration control monitor. These would also be useful for controlling deceleration as well. Coincidental Design Issues: The use of magnetic impulse drives has its own biomedical issues, not least to cause “Visions”! This is a well-known phenomenon, most common in people with a tendency to Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. It was most probably the event, which caused the conversion of St Paul. I suspect it has been the cause of all religious visions, no matter what religion. The issue might be best addressed by locating the magnets/electromagnets in outriggers on the capsule. This would mean the single tube would become a treble tube. A 3m diameter main tube, supported by two 1m diameter tubes would greatly enhance the lateral strength of the infrastructure, eliminating flex, due to side winds. Including a further Venturi compression set in each outrigger will further stabilise the capsule in motion. The outriggers could also be used as luggage holds. Further reduction of magnetic influences on passengers could be effected by the inclusion of grounded screening plates in the walls of both capsule and outrigger tubes. By implementing a laminate construction, the screens would also provide further vertical rigidity of the tubes. Olgrumpfy

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