What the History of Cars & Planes Tell Us About the Future of Hyperloop

Published August 18, 2016 by Compute Midwest

In 2013, Elon Musk, the tech mogul behind SpaceX and Tesla, introduced the world to a new mode of transportation that could take passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just thirty minutes.

Named the Hyperloop, the tubular transportation would operate by propelling pods at more 700 MPH using pressurized cylinders, copper coils and solar power.

Although it sounds like a sci-fi pipe dream, physicists said the technology held up - Musk just needed someone to build it.

Essentially crowdsourcing the technology, he provided the concept and math to help spur interest in new forms of transportation, helping sprout new companies making his vision a reality.

Hyperloop One begun initial construction in Nevada with completion expected in 2020, while Hyperloop Transportation Technologies signed a deal with Slovakia earlier this year to develop a line connecting Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest.

Musk says his plan could be implemented for only $6 billion, a fraction of the cost compared to California’s much-maligned high speed rail project that will run up a $65 billion budget. He expects to keep costs so low by utilizing land adjacent to already built highways and using solar energy.

Experts think the Hyperloop could be game-changing. It could bring about a world in which you live in Kansas City but commute to work in St. Louis.

It could drastically lower costs on all sorts of products by streamlining freight delivery. It could even help solve the climate-change crisis by eliminating the need for automobiles.

Although these benefits are cause for excitement, they are still only speculation. But if we take a look back at the last two modes of transportation to flip the industry on its head - the automobile and the plane - it becomes evident that the Hyperloop shares many of the same qualities to truly change our future.

The Automobile

If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right
— Henry Ford

In the early 20th century, cars entered mass production with Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, leading a manufacturing revolution similarly to Elon Musk.

Production of cars increased nearly 100 percent from 1907 to 1935, requiring Ford to expand his workforce to produce his Model T and creating so many jobs that workers were lining up for blocks outside Ford factories to try to land a job. It’s not difficult to imagine a similar path for the Hyperloop.

A new industry requiring jobs in manufacturing, construction, engineering, sustainable technology, urban planning, etc. across the country. It could help spur on new jobs in tangentially related industries. Production of cars drastically increased the need for vulcanized rubber and steel, causing jobs in the industries to skyrocket.

In fact, almost twenty percent of U.S. steel production and 60 percent of rubber production is credited to the automobile industry.

The Hyperloop could bring about similar results in the copper industry, for instance, or encourage specialized tools in order mass produce materials and equipment never made before.

The automobile age ignited a cultural shift in America as well. As simple and common as it is now, American families were finally able to vacation throughout the country.

Beautiful landscapes like the Grand Canyon were now open for city dwellers to travel to, while places like Chicago or Los Angeles became accessible destinations for rural families.

The parallels are obvious with the Hyperloop, which could take the connections made by the automobile and increase them by hundreds of miles.

With lower costs and faster travel times, families could make weekend trips without using up their savings or spending most of their time in the car. And, as we documented in our previous post, Americans could be untethered from their jobs and commute from much further distances, potentially even lowering housing and rent costs in big cities like New York City and San Francisco.

The car introduced the concept of “credit” to American psyche, which continues to influence consumer behavior and the economy today. When manufacturers allowed customers to pay in multiple payments for their Model T to much acclaim, the practice spread to other consumer goods like kitchen appliances.

While we don’t know all of the societal trends that would follow the Hyperloop, it’s safe to say that new, groundbreaking transportation will certainly change our habits.

The auto revolution created the emergence of industries we hadn't even thought of:

It brought about the Federal Highway Act of 1921, creating infrastructure for Americans to drive their cars throughout the country. As a result, unintended service-based industries began peppering the highways.

Gas stations set up shop, large motels were built on major long-distance routes to house drivers on cross-country trips.

Classic American staples came out of this time, too, as roadside diners emerged during this time to provide quick and inexpensive food on the road.

The Hyperloop could also bring about industries we haven’t even considered yet. Stops on Hyperloop lines would become one-stop hubs for travelers - necessitating businesses to provide food, internet entertainment and other essentials.

Forward-thinking designs like the one below are taking a stab at what these stations will look like.

This one, from industrial designer Serge Roux, is designed to make getting off and on their capsules more efficient and save time on trips.

While the auto industry has certainly had its ebbs and flows, the overall benefits of the revolution brought about by the technology has been a massive net-positive.

The Hyperloop could follow a similar trajectory, kickstarting similar public initiatives, new technology and ensuing jobs as well as a cultural shift in the country.

The Airplane

Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!
— Orville Wright

Orville and Wilbur Wright first soared through the air in 1903 on the shores of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

It would have been impossible to imagine the ways their winged-technology would open up all corners of the globe economically and culturally over the next few decades.

The first commercial flight would come nine years later in Florida, and by the 1930s pilots were taking planes across the Pacific Ocean.

The urgent need for bombers during the World Wars would continue to accelerate the aviation industry as models like the DC-3 helped lead to commercial airplanes better suited for longer flights and implemented by companies like American Airlines.

Starting in 1936, Americans could fly from New York to Chicago at speeds thought impossible only twenty years prior. By the mid-century mark, the skies were flooded with new travel companies offering flights all over the world.

Now, the aviation industry is responsible for injecting trillions of dollars into the global economy and carrying nearly 2 million passengers around the world each day.

But what can the evolution of air travel teach us about the Hyperloop?

For one, we can learn that a smaller world is a better world. Airplanes shrank the size of the globe immensely.

In 1900, it would take you five weeks to get from New York to Chicago. By 1940, you were looking at just a few hours.

Travel to foreign countries was no longer a pipe-dream only possible through a grueling boat ride—it was an elegant, short trip through the sky.

The Hyperloop could take this even further, essentially taking the massive hunk of land that is America and shrinking it down to the size of a few scattered cities.

Musk calls for Hyperloop rides running every two minutes, as opposed to flight routes that may only carry passengers once a day.

This means businesses from Boston could have a quick lunch meeting with clients in New York before heading back to the office.

Couples in Wichita could have a date night in St. Louis.

If the Wright brothers' innovation showed us one thing, it’s that just because something has not been imagined yet doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Before airplanes, the concept of tourism did not exist nearly on the same scale as it does today.

Around 1950, planes increased their passenger load from 28 to 150 and their speeds from 200 MPH to 600 MPH.

The size of the tourism industry exploded at a similar rate; in 1950, according to the World Tourism Organization, arrivals of tourists from abroad were about 25.2 million. Over the next 40 years, that number would rise to more than 600 million.

This massive uptick in passengers, of course, meant a massive uptick in money being spent throughout the country and the world.

In 1950 the tourism industry was valued at $2.1 billion. Now the industry is among the fastest growing in the world, accounting for more than $1 trillion, nearly 10 percent of jobs globally and seven percent of the world’s exports.

An industry this massive would be greatly affected by a similarly transformative technology. The Hyperloop could make the market even larger, opening up areas outside of the traditionally traveled destinations to tourists by offering more flexibility on their travels.

With frequent rides between Los Angeles and San Francisco, riders could hop off near Bakersfield for some tacos, then take the line up toward Modesto for a little shopping before reaching San Francisco. All of that at speeds faster than an airplane as well.

So next time someone tells you technology like the Hyperloop is a pipedream, like something you’ll see on a Buzzfeed article about failed technologies— just remember this:

Someone probably told Henry Ford that the horse and buggy was a great way to get around, or the Wright brothers that the rail industry was far too big to ever change.

To learn more about the Hyperloop and how it can change our world, come see Bibop Gresta, COO of Hyperloop Transport Technologies, speak at Compute Midwest on November 2 in Kansas City.