Gentlemen, we have hyperloopAugust 12, 2013: 5:07 PM ET
Does it matter that we probably won't see the Elon Musk's transportation system built?
By Ryan Bradley
FORTUNE -- It is impossible to spell Hyperloop—Tesla (TSLA) and Space X founder and CEO Elon Musk's incredibly fast and extremely out-there transportation system—without hype. And it's true. There have been many, many, many news stories today about what, essentially, is nothing more than a revealed plan that may very well never see the light of day. But to focus on the hype misses the power behind any hugely ambitious idea. And, in particular, hugely ambitious ideas from a guy running two successful companies, one that delivers cargo (and soon, people) to the International Space Station and another that makes the best selling electric sports car of all time.
So Elon Musk has released plans to transport people in aluminum pods in steel tubs: a double barrel shotgun where we travel in the shells, at 800 miles per hour. He told Bloomberg Businessweek this afternoon that he also envisions pod filled with cars: "You just drive on, and the pod departs."
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In May, when Musk first mentioned the Hyperloop, he described it as a "cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table." The comparison to Concorde seems especially apt. The supersonic commercial airliner began carrying passengers in 1969—the same year as the first lunar landing. Only 20 were built, they were riddled with system failures, and in 2003—after a sharp decline in passengers post-9/11 and a Concorde crash in 2000—the program was scrapped. Still, it's a staggering thing to consider that some of those passengers breaking the sound barrier and crossing the Atlantic in less than three hours had been born before the first flight at Kitty Hawk.
Last year, at Fortune Brainstorm tech, venture capitalist/enfant terrible Peter Thiel took Eric Schmidt, Google, and basically anyone not dreaming-up hugely ambitious projects to task for being lazy non-dreamers. He thought we'd moved backwards, actually, in the scope of grand technological leaps. And Thiel kept mentioning Concorde. (It's awkward, but the styling is supposed to be without a definite article. Just: Concorde.) At first it was funny, then it was strange and uncomfortable. Was Concorde some huge achievement? It wasn't a good business, it broke all the time, but paying customers pretty routinely cracked the sound barrier. Stranger things have happened than a double barreled shotgun shooting folks between San Francisco and Los Angeles at 800 miles per hour.