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Elon Musk thinks the world needs a new form of transportation. On Monday, the founder of Tesla Motors and private spaceship company SpaceX unveiled his plan for the Hyperloop, a sort of ultra high-speed train-in-a-tube/air hockey table combo, which he estimates could get a traveler from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes: twice as fast as an airplane and eight times faster than driving (with no traffic!) — all for just $6 billion (or perhaps a lot more).
Musk describes the Hyperloop as “the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart”. He argues that his idea is cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient than California’s current LA-SF travel solution: the $68 billion high-speed rail project that is supposed to traverse from San Diego to San Francisco by 2029. The problem, says Musk, is that the project will be one of the slowest and most expensive high-speed rail projects ever built.
Lest you think Musk has developed this idea out of thin air (get it?), early 19th century mechanical engineer George Medhurst was a pioneer of pneumatics (propulsion via compressed air). Later in the 1800s, the New York City’s mail system relied on a series of pneumatic tubes — through which some enterprising mail workers sent a live cat to Brooklyn from Manhattan in 1897, which survived with no harm done.
Reactions to the Hyperloop plan varied from the skeptical to the unabashedly enthusiastic. “There was certainly a time when electric cars and private space flight seemed silly, too. But what’s sillier is treating this as anything other than a very rich man’s wild imagination”, writes Sam Biddle. Alexis Madrigal, meanwhile, thinks it’s a awesome, but a completely implausible idea, and threatens to undermine the high-speed rail project that is just starting to get somewhere in California.
Henry Blodget, however, thinks building should start immediately: “Most of the initial objections to the plan are lame. They could have been–and no doubt were–said for all major transportation systems”, he writes. In general, as Timothy Lavin noted, “the technology world responded with exuberant enthusiasm, the transportation world by noting the plan’s serial implausibilities”.
While Musk has clearly thought through the project’s logistics (the PDF introducing it is 57 pages long), it’s not much of a real idea, in that he’s already admitted he isn’t devoting much time to it. Kevin Roose sees Musk’s plan as a political manifesto rather than an infrastructure plan.”Musk wants to train normal people to look to private enterprise, not government, for the innovations that will improve their lives, and he wants them to pressure lawmakers to get out of the way of technological progress”.
In many ways, Musk’s idea fits in well with George Packer’s recent characterization of how Silicon Valley views society: “The ideal of a frictionless world, in which technology is a force for progress as well as a source of wealth, leaves out the fact that politics inevitably means clashing interests, with winners and losers.”
But, let’s be honest, it’s really is fun to think about. — Shane Ferro
On to today’s links:
The full text of the complaints against two former JPMorgan employees in the London Whale case – DOJ
The two former JPM employees deliberately tried to hide hundreds of millions of dollars in losses on trades in a portfolio of synthetic credit derivatives, according to the charges – Emily Flitter
If you are going to be under investigation for fraud, you might as well hang out in southern France – Reuters
A who’s who in the London Whale case – David Benoit
Twitter’s first Ponzi scheme operator, Anthony “King of Akron” Davian, charged with fraud – Zerohedge
Previously: The erstwhile hedge fund king of Akron, Ohio’s very difficult summer – Roddy Boyd