Hyperloop: Future of transit?
IMAGINE strapping into a car-size capsule and hurtling through a tube at more than 1,126kmh - not for the thrill of it, but to get to where you need to go.
On Monday, South African-American billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled a transportation concept that he said could whisk passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes - half the time it would take in an airplane.
The highly-anticipated announcement put to rest some of the questions surrounding the ambitious project, which the Tesla Motors founder and chief executive has hinted at for months, but declined to discuss in detail.
His "Hyperloop" system for travel between major cities is akin to the pneumatic tubes that transported capsules stuffed with paperwork in old buildings.
In this case, the cargo would be people, reclining for a ride that would start with a force of acceleration like that of an airplane, but then be turbulence-free.
Mr Musk said the Hyperloop would cost less than US$6 billion (S$7 billion) and could transport 7.4 million people each way each year.
Capsules could depart every 30 seconds, carrying 28 people, with a projected cost of about US$20 each way.
Mr Musk said he is too busy running electric-car company Tesla and rocket manufacturer SpaceX to build the Hyperloop himself. He said the design plans were open-sourced, meaning others can build on them.
Most of his entrepreneurial career has been spent attacking businesses that he deems inefficient or uninspiring. In the case of the Hyperloop, Mr Musk's creative juices began flowing after he grew disenchanted with California's planned high-speed rail system. The train system, which has endured much political wrangling, has been budgeted at about US$70 billion.
Dr Martin Simon, a professor of physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was briefed on some of the Hyperloop details, said it seems feasible from a technological standpoint.
He said: "It does sound like it (can be) done with known technology."
But the Hyperloop did not take long to attract scepticism.
Dr Richard White, a professor of American history at Stanford and author of Railroaded: The Transcontinentals And The Making Of Modern America, said: "It doesn't seem plausible to me. I'm suspicious about everything, especially the cost.
"How's (Mr Musk) going to build this thing with US$6 billion? You can't even build the Bay Bridge with that amount."
The still-unfinished renovation of the Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco and Oakland is expected to cost US$6.3 billion.
So, don't pack your bags just yet.
AP, BLOOMBERG, NYT, REUTERS