Commentary

Who's Aboard Musk's Hyperloop, 29 Minutes From NYC To DC?

It was one of those “say what?” Elon Musk moments when, amid the barrage of Trump-related tweets in our feed came this from @elonmusk yesterday morning: “Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins.”

A couple of minutes later — about the time it will presumably take a hyperloop vactrain to travel about 20-25 miles — it was followed by: “City center to city center in each case, with up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city.” Then: “Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that will occur rapidly.”

It was not long before Dave Lee, the BBC’s Silicon Valley reporter was tweeting back the questions that anybody who has been sweltering on the subway recently was asking: “Who gave verbal approval? Do any of your partners know? Do the cities know? Does anyone know anything, about any aspect of this, at all?”

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In fact, former Southern District of New York prosecutor @PreetBharara is apparently one of those straphangers. He tweeted: “Dear @elonmusk, I do want this to happen fast. But are you familiar with our Mayor & Governor? Could you also help with the subway? Please?”

It’s not just New York’s municipalities that need to be in the hyperloop, of course, and the hed on an ABC News piece tells us all we need to know: “Local governments caught off guard …

Indeed, after Lee’s (and BBC colleague Cody Godwin’s) reporting failed to obtain any substantive answers from Musk, his representatives or government agencies that might be involved, his story about the “hyperbolic ‘announcement’” concludes: “My hunch is that Mr. Musk is simply on a sales pitch — laying the ground work, quite literally, for The Boring Company to get some major investment.”

And here’s the lede on the Michael Laris and Brian Fung piece for the Washington Post: “Transportation pioneer Elon Musk has been known to talk big and sometimes overpromise. But the Tesla chief and rocket builder took it up a notch Thursday, offering a tantalizing but so-far-undocumented announcement …” 

But they point out “the Trump administration did not knock the notion down. Asked if it had given Musk verbal approval, a White House spokesman said, ‘We have had promising conversations to date, are committed to transformative infrastructure projects, and believe our greatest solutions have often come from the ingenuity and drive of the private sector.’”

Look at the face on former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo as he responds to a question about Musk’s tweets on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” with an almost-just-as-seemingly-preposterous proposition. “Elon might be proof that time travel exists,” Costolo says, “because he seems to have either more hours in the day than the rest of us have or, or he’s from the future….”

That’s a good thing. “In all seriousness, his ability to think cogently and thoughtfully about such a wide range of topics while running these multiple companies, and seeming to be running them well, I mean it makes you shake your head it’s so remarkable,” Costolo says.

If you’re inclined to think this is all hype (or the stuff of a sci-fi script circulating in Hollywood), think again. “Engineers will soon conduct a crucial test of a futuristic technology championed by entrepreneur Elon Musk that seeks to revolutionize transportation by sending passengers and cargo packed into pods through an intercity system of vacuum tubes,” Reuters’ Alex Dobuzinskis reported last week.

“Hyperloop One, the Los Angeles-based company developing the technology, is gearing up to send a 28-foot-long (8.5 meter-long) pod gliding across a set of tracks in a test run in Nevada in the next few weeks, spokeswoman Marcy Simon said.”

In the Baltimore Sun, Colin Campbell points out “the technology required to build such a system has been developed already.” Hyperloop Transportation Technologies “began researching and developing Hyperloop in 2013, when Musk debuted the idea,” CEO Dirk Ahlborn tells him, and is already working with governments in the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and elsewhere.

“The technology is there,” Ahlborn tells Campbell. “The technology is not the issue.”

Can’t you just hear the AI conductor cooing, “All aboard! Watch the closing doors”?

 
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