A team has been assembled to transport us into a future filled with the fantastical visions of Tony Stark's doppelganger. That's right, folks -- Elon Musk's loopy Hyperloop concept is going to be built. Well, a prototype at least, and perhaps in as little as 18 months, but there's reason to be skeptical.
This week, a new company officially emerged from the shadows, complete with the bland Acme-esque sort of name you'd expect from an "Iron Man" comic: "Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc." It will be led by Marco Villa, formerly of Musk's SpaceX, and Patricia Galloway, an executive who comes with experience and connections in the worlds of business, politics, and science. The startup has set up shop on crowdfunding site JumpStartFund, where it also published a project timeline that culminates in the demonstration of a prototype Hyperloop in the first quarter of 2015.
According to the timeline, we should also expect to see an official kickoff to the effort as soon as Monday via a "Live meeting and/or online hangout." The project is divided into four sections, including: "System," "Capsule," "Tube," and "Manufacturing, integration and test." The team hopes to release an updated white paper by the end of March that will "conclusively answer all the tough questions, prove that the design is feasible, and collect reasonable estimates for schedule and cost."
The prototype design will be released for bid and construction on June 2, according to the timeline, with work taking place the second half of next year and some sort of demo events happening in early 2015.
Reason to be skeptical
Even though I'm a little concerned that the era of coast-to-coast Hyperloop transportation will be yet another huge nail in the coffin for the rural America where I live, I'm still thrilled by the prospect of this little bit of Jetsonian awesomeness becoming reality. But here's the thing: Either the demonstration prototype we would see in 2015 would be very, very limited, or the person who wrote this timeline is delusional.
I can already hear you questioning the qualifications of a blogger to make such pronouncements. It's true that I'm not an engineer or designer, but I've navigated quite a bit more bureaucracy and concept development than the average person and kept a pretty close eye on the worlds of crowdfunding and innovation in particular for some time now. Kickstarter has shown us that it's rare for even an iPhone accessory to get made in just a few short months, yet apparently a revolutionary new form of transportation can jump from blueprints to reality in six months? Even with Musk's billions, Tesla and SpaceX spent years perfecting their designs and navigating the relevant bureaucracy.
But here's where I must hedge a bit since Villa and Galloway are people who clearly know their stuff. Perhaps there's millions in funding already on tap, and perhaps there are already handshake agreements to build the prototype at one of the rare facilities in the world that can accommodate a straightaway long enough for a vehicle to accelerate to 700 miles per hour and then slow to a stop.
I hope that's the situation, but otherwise I think we're likely to see a much less impressive demonstration in 2015...or none at all.