Monke: Could Hyperloop be this century's airplane?
Last week, billionaire innovator Elon Musk revealed details about a secretive project he has been working on, which he claims could give humanity a "fifth mode of transport."
The Hyperloop, as Musk calls it, is basically the same idea as pneumatic tubes used by banks to pass documents or money from customers to tellers at drive-through stations.
But instead of being 12 inches long and designed for inanimate objects, the Hyperloop would be solar powered and use forced air to move six human passengers in a capsule 4½ feet wide and a little over 6 feet tall at about 800 mph wherever its tubes run.
This may seem like something straight out of science fiction but it is a legitimate idea that, if it works and if it can be built, would change travel across the country and eventually the world.
It is as close to a realistic, world-changing, science-fiction-turned-reality idea that has come about in a long, long time.
Now, I have always been a fan of science fiction. Perhaps it's an inherited trait from my dad, who genuinely enjoys watching old "Star Trek" and "Doctor Who" episodes, and usually finds his way to the SyFy channel when he's relaxing on the couch. I like the new "Star Trek" films and "Doctor Who" series, and enjoy watching pretty much anything in the sci-fi genre.
So when I heard about the Hyperloop, naturally I was intrigued.
How would it work? How will it be tested? How much would it cost to build? How is it going to run? Would people actually want to travel this way? Those are just a sampling of the questions I had.
Then after talking about it with my family, including my physics teacher brother, I came upon the realization that the Hyperloop seems like a nonsensical idea to most because they don't understand what it is or how it works. I likened it to the same feelings people probably had when they heard about the Wright brothers taking flight in December 1903.
It had to have been scary and surreal to hear about men flying, even though that first flight lasted just 59 seconds.
I'm sure there were naysayers then who thought man would never truly conquer the air. Boy were they wrong.
Fifty years later, airplanes helped the Allies win World War II and commercial air travel was beginning to be an everyday part of life.
The Hyperloop has the potential to be this century's airplane. But only if it generates financial and popular support, isn't overregulated by the government and is allowed to operate in the free market.
Musk has already stated that the Hyperloop will be an open design concept, meaning anyone who has ideas to change and improve upon it can do so.
The only problem I can foresee is the biggest one: getting the Hyperloop built.
The price tag for the first Hyperloop between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be $6 billion, Musk estimates. But some analysts believe it could balloon to 10 times that when it comes to actually acquiring the land on which to build the device.
Even if it were to only cost $6 billion, ticket prices for that one segment would cost an outlandish amount, simply for the investors to be able to break even.
This also wouldn't be a train that can stop every so often to pick up passengers, so you can bet that all those on the land being bypassed along the 30-minute ride between Los Angeles and San Francisco wouldn't be too pleased with that, just as southwest North Dakotans wouldn't be pleased if Musk were to build a Hyperloop on their land connecting Minneapolis to Billings, Mont.
Nonetheless, it is an idea worth exploring because in order for a society to progress, we must be willing to explore the so-called impossible.
Every so often, an idea comes along that seems too good to be true. Maybe the Hyperloop is one of those ideas.
If it fails, no one can say humanity never explored a grand idea. If it succeeds, it could change the world. And right now, the world could use a little change.
Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him at monkebusiness.