Elon Musk's 'Hyperloop' Is Scientifically Viable, Says Transportation Simulation Expert

on September 20, 2013 5:12 PM EDT

hyperloop
Elon Musk's Hyperloop is scientifically possible, says Ansys, a company that makes high-end simulation software for transportation systems (Photo: Hyperloop)

Although Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk's "Hyperloop" system sounds a little weird -- the plan calls for a pneumatic tubes in which passengers travel in pods going 700 mph -- at least one company is saying it's theoretically possible. Ansys, a company that makes high-end simulation software for transportation systems, put Hyperloop to the test using their software. Their conclusion?    

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"I don't immediately see any red flags," said Sandeep Sovani, director of land transportation strategy at Ansys. "I think it is quite viable." And Sovani's comments to NBC News were even more forthright: "I'm convinced that the Hyperloop is going to work." (Ansys has worked with Musk on SpaceX projects, but is not involved with Hyperloop.)

The plans for Hyperloop call for "commuter pods" that hold 28 passengers. Those pods are pushed through steel tubes on cushions or air by magnetic linear accelerators. That's the basic concept, and the goal is a Los Angeles to San Francisco trip -- about 380 miles -- that would take only 35 minutes.  

The Ansys team created a virtual pod and tube system according to the specifications in Musk's 57-page PDF describing Hyperloop.  After putting the pods through a series of air flow and other tests, Ansys found that the system theoretically worked. As it is currently detailed, Hyperloop suffers from some design problems, Ansys found. The pods are too boxy and would likely become very hot during travel. Ansys said there's also nothing preventing the pods from turning upside-down as they hurtle through the tubes, something which seems like it would be severely unpleasant.  

Those are things that can be tweaked, Sovani said, and on the whole Hyperloop seems to him like a workable system. Sovani plans to send Musk suggestions for how he could streamline the pods. Regardless, with a cost that some analysts say may reach $100 billion, Hyperloop may not become a reality anytime soon.

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