Why the Hyperloop is a vomit comet that will cause terrorism and deafness

How users of present-day internet pipes responded to Elon Musk's tubular fantasy

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Former internet banker and new DIY spaceship pioneer Elon Musk announced his Hyperloop scheme this week, revealing a vision of a future world in which people are flushed between cities down metal pipes like the living sewerage the human race has become.

The pipe-travel concept was greeted with both amazement and derision on the internet, with some welcoming our new tubular transport future and others claiming it's more reminiscent of some of sci-fi's less believable dreams from the 1970s. Stuff that Arthur C Clarke wrote down in his ideas book, but never bothered fleshing out as it seemed a bit too silly.

All we're really interested in is can you get Wi-Fi on it or not? That's the deal-maker on any travel decision these days as far as we're concerned.

Here's what the web at large had to say about Musk's sealed intercity pipeline.

Tubular hells

User pyq6 over at the Guardian had some words that could kill Hyperloop before it even gets out of Musk's head and anywhere near a drawing board, using the dread T-word to instil fear in the globe: "Lost in the gathering nerdgasm is the inevitable concern over possible terrorism. Running the tube next to the (Interstate) 5 would make this thing vulnerable to trucks filled with explosives, for example."

Discussions turning to terrorism is the new discussions turning to Hitler, with TheodoraMarlowe chipping in with some good advice for local Al-Qaeda operatives, saying: "You know, a terrorist with explosives could easily carry them into a backpack and explode them in the Transbay Tube that carries BART trains into and out of San Francisco every day."

Great idea. Nice to know that other people also spend their days mulling over scenarios that would result in the largest number of civilian casualties.

LochnessMunster, quoting data that may or may not be true, put the terror threat faced by Hyperloop into perspective, adding: "You're more likely to get struck by lightning than be attacked by a terrorist. Get over it."

Pipe bomb

Now we're happy the terror threat is minimal at best, our worries over Hyperloop turn to the health and safety aspects of the plan, and where better to find people obsessing over minute unknowable detail than the Daily Mail?

User Jay Wold used his or her wealth of scientific knowledge to suggest that: "All passengers arrive deaf as the air pressure of such sustained speed will blow out the ear drums," which if true and not the imaginings of a maniac, would kill Musk's plan stone dead. Or at least render all involved stone deaf.

A more expert discussion including actual science can be found over at Technology Review, where Rob Lister punts his favourite imaginary disaster scenario: "A catastrophic failure at pod 1; all pressurization lost over a period of 10 seconds. Begins grinding to a halt at x (3? 5? 10?) g's. How soon can 400 miles of tube being re-pressurized? Do we need to keep in mind that 19 pods behind it don't want to hit a brick wall of air. At that pressure, the good folk in pod 1 have 2 minutes at best."

He's answered by falstaff and Andrewppp, who quotes Newton and physics, claiming the six-mile minimum gap between pods should allow a relatively comfortable 1G deceleration for the pod immediately behind a stricken vehicle, which Lister agrees with, saying: "That sounds reasonable. They're covered with their own vomit and crap, but they're alive."

Failing at life

This will come as a disappointment to Mashable comment leaver Sheryl Roycer, who saw death-by-technology as a way to escape the nothingness of her existence, pointing out that: "If you have failed miserably in your life, one of the best ways to be remembered is being the first man who died on that transport device."

But will it even happen? Not if the weight of public opinion counts for anything. Derek Crane cynically summarised the anti-Musk opinion over on the Wall Street Journal, saying: "This levitated train, the idea purloined from the pages of a 30 year old Popular Science issue, seems to be his ticket for more taxpayer money."

And given that California has already committed a staggering $68bn to building a boring old high-speed rail network on boring old metal rails, there's surely no more money left to pay Musk's sci-fi pod trains.

Not unless the American equivalent of Eddie Stobart or Megabus fancies paying for it to get built.

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