Elon Musk recently released the “alpha design” plans for this futuristic mass transit system, the Hyperloop. As FGN readers know, we have a soft spot for technologists engaged in solving real world problems with ideas that seem to stretch into the stratosphere of science fiction, but are actually rooted in nuts and bolts engineering.
The “fifth mode” as it is being called, refers to the fact that when implemented it would represent a new “greener” alternative to traditional modes of transportation – car, train, plane, and ship. Musk is busy working on revisioning at least two of them. His Tesla electric car company overcame the small speed bump of an initial unfavorable review in the New York Times. Now it looks to be a sustainable business model. Musk’s other venture, SpaceX, is also increasingly viable.
Musk doesn’t want to be seen as a visionary distracted by pretty baubles. So he made quite the bold move by announcing that the Hyperloop plans would be open source. There is clearly an element of strategy here, environmental altruism aside. First, it’s important to note that Musk isn’t the only player in the game. The mass transit utopians number in the many, and are all very clever and smart. And they are all profit-motivated, which is perfectly fine. In fact, it’s certainly better that way.
How can Musk get the advantage over his competitors, like SkyTran? One move is to go open source, thereby leapfrogging the proprietary secrecy of other technologies. SkyTran, for instance, claims they are using non-disclosable NASA technology to optimize their system. Musk is a genius promoter, so throwing open the doors now makes a lot of sense. Framing the HyperLoop in marketable terms – San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes in pneumatic tubes! – is only part of the sell. Giving over the plans for the general public to examine is the next logical step.
When huge city and state commissions start rolling in, Musk will be the no-brainer go-to builder of the HyperLoop. Even if he doesn’t own the plans, it is, after all, his baby.