Controlling the Colorado Hyperloop Environment
2014 May 20 By Blake 1 comment
Color drawing of Front Range Hyperloop
Front Range Hyperloop

The title of this post is Controlling the Colorado Hyperloop Environment.

Yes, controlling is a strong word. Does it mean physically or politically?

Also, environment means many different things. Is that social, or weather related?For a large transportation project that stretches miles over the horizon, the role of the environment (weather and politically) is critical to system stability.

Lets focus on Mother Nature. The hyperloop will be covered in a weather/waterproof cement like tube. These will be the main controlling factor to the environment inside the tubes. Other innovative systems are also trying to control the environment. Take for example a article on NextCity.org about MIT’s CityFarm.

Indoor farming sounds, at first blush, like a second-rate fallback option; perhaps it’s necessary, but it means forgoing the natural abundance of the elements outdoors. When Harper describes it, though, those elements sound more like uncooperative troublemakers. Reviewing the advantages he enjoys compared with his hypothetical counterpart out in the fields, Harper says, “The reason he uses chemicals, pesticides and genetic modification is that he can’t control anything. It’s windy, there’s not enough minerals. He tries to take that plant and any way he can make that plant a super plant to survive in an adverse world.” By contrast, “I’m trying to create a perfect world. So the plant can do what it’s good at, which is grow.”

“Indoors you can control everything. Outdoors you can control nothing. What’s better? Duh.” 

So a closed environment is good idea especially if you are trying to do certain, specific things.

Now lets talk about the political and city environment. When the hyperloop is built it will lead to a shift in citizens expectations. Controlling such an environment will not be easy, nor should it be controlled. Another NextCity.org article had some good thoughts on how the change in the potical environment of cities due to a Hyperloop:

2. Urban life is bending toward on-demand. Hyperloop, as Musk sees it, will be made up of pods, or capsules, capable of holding up to 28 passengers each. There will be no need to wait — the vision is for pods to leave every two minutes on average, and every 30 seconds during rush hour. 

That echoes what we’ve seen with services like Uber or Airbnb, when resources are broken up into discrete bits, whether they’re unused cars or excess rooms, and distributed when and where consumers want them. No more of the “pulsed situation” that we see at airports, Musk writes, where scheduling generates lines. The Hyperloop will, with its regularity, seem like a steady flow. One possibility is that, in turn, it spurs even more on-demand transportation options. If you spend just 30 minutes getting from San Francisco to Los Angeles, you’re unlikely to want to spend another half-hour on a taxi line once you get there.

3. Tapping existing infrastructure makes the impossible possible. It’s not the pods that cost real money, Musk argues. Nor is it the motors to power them. It’s the tubes themselves. In the case of California, though, it’s possible to build the path on pylons above ground, which means “you can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land by following alongside the mostly very straight California Interstate 5 highway, with only minor deviations when the highway makes a sharp turn.”

The use of public resources can drive down costs, something Google has found as it has sought to build out Internet access with its Fiber project. Where it’s necessary to build on private land, Musk writes, the advantage of building above ground is that Hyperloop would inconvenience landowners no more than having a telephone pole on their property.

4. Affordability is the key to sustainability. Musk made his first real fortune on PayPal, a peer-to-peer banking system that made it possible for even the smallest of businesses to collect and distribute funds — and which powered the explosive growth of eBay. Now with his Tesla Motors, Musk says that his ultimate goal includes producing “affordably priced family cars” to “help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.” It’s clear that Musk’s ambition is for Hyperloop to be an leap ahead, environmentally, as compared to existing modes of transportation. For that to happen, he’ll need to pull cars off the road and planes out of the air, which means keeping ticket prices low.

5. Open source is the way ahead. Hyperloop is an “open source transportation concept,” Musk says, “similar to Linux,” wherein the plans are released absent the copyright we might expect to see. Musk has invited feedback, saying “iteration of the design by various individuals and groups can help bring Hyperloop from an idea to a reality.” In particular, he says, he could use help designing the control mechanism for pods and the stations themselves.

In their new book, The Metropolitan Revolution, the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley describe federal and state governments as “a collection of hardened silos” where transportation departments design transportation-centric solutions. Cities, meanwhile, are “organic communities” where shared responsibilities can come from anywhere. It helps if plans and ideas, then, aren’t held in a proprietary grasp. It’s an openness to openness that is, in fact, key to the seriousness with which commentators have treated Musk’s role as a transportation entrepreneur. After all, he’s just a man with an idea.

So it seems like city farms and hyperloops have more in common to each other than just “controlled” environments.

One thought on “Controlling the Colorado Hyperloop Environment

  1. My impression from Musk’s white paper was that he was trying to fill in the picture with various details chosen more to make it easier to understand than because they were technically necessary.

    Pods would have a maximum upper size dictated by the physics but could also be much smaller. In an open system with a variety of users the same Hyperloop could be something like a highway used by both tractor-trailers and compact cars.

    As far as I can tell, pods spaced every 30 seconds is just such an arbitrary choice to form a basis for estimating capacity. Some critics attacked it as far too closely spaced. The opposite seems to be true within realistic engineering limits of the system. The system should easily accommodate 10x that much traffic with pods spaced less than 3 seconds apart rather than 30. This is an extremely controlled entirely automated space.

    The controlled automated character of the space is important for understanding the potential of the system. Hyperloop can move a lot of traffic both passenger and cargo very safely and efficiently precisely because it doesn’t need big sloppy margins for safety purposes. Peoples intuitions about safety for existing transport systems is based on their being human driven and open to all sorts of random interference.

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