Honestly I'm amazed by the fact that there's been such an outpouring of enthusiasm and talent for the Hyperloop competition. I've just been talking backstage with Steve and some of the designs, I think, are really amazing. What we really intended to do with the Hyperloop was really to spur interest in new forms of transportation. And I'm starting to think that this is really going to happen. It's clear that the public and the world wants something new and I think you guys are going to bring it to them. So congratulations.
We're thinking about the competition that'll take place later this year, perhaps in the summer, and the goal is going to be to actually come up with something that can ultimately be used. So we want it to be something that, if you were to extend the 1 km track to hundreds of kilometers, that the system would still work. Also I think we want to introduce ideas for how the track should be built. Like how do you do a multi-hundred km track and make the thing work. Because we want to bring this to fruition and show people that something new and great can happen and it doesn't have to be the same old thing.
So the basic idea with the competition is we're going to try and get to the highest possible speed in the 1 km track and then, of course, you have to stop before the end. There will be a foam pit at the end, so you might recover some pieces of your pod. But the idea is to accelerate you will have a big screen showing the speed of the pod as it's going through the Hyperloop. There's going to be a big crowd, I think. Particularly since it's in L.A. So there's going to be a lot of people watching. So people will see the speed get up to some crazy number, and they'll be watching it brake and there'll be a lot of tension 'is it going to brake in time?!' and I think it's going to be a really exciting event. I'm looking forward to it.
Once again, thank you for all your efforts. I could do a bit of Q&A if you'd like %u2026
[enthusiastic yes from the crowd]
So I guess just fire away!
[What inspired you to do the Hyperloop thing?]
First of all I want to acknowledge the help of great people at SpaceX and Tesla who worked with me on it, but actually what inspired me was I was stuck in L.A. Traffic and I was about an hour late for a talk and I was thinking 'man there's got to be some better way to get around.' So, at first the idea that I had actually made no sense and wouldn't work, but I kind of shot my mouth off at the event and said 'yeah I've got this idea for a new form of transport that I think would be really cool.' I thought people would just not ask me about it in the future, but then they did. So it was like 'oh man, I'd better come up with something that actually DOES work %u2026' Then we actually only came to a solution that we thought would work maybe two days before the date that I published it. I basically just put it on the website and did 30 minutes of Q&A and then it just went bananas. Like it went super-viral. I wasn't actually expecting that to happen. I just wanted to do what I said I would do, which is write the paper.
[Which one do you prefer, still the air bearings or do you go with mag-lev?]
That's a good question. When you consider the system as a whole, what matters is: whatever the end thing is built that people actually use, the cost and the reliability and the utility have to be as good as possible. So the fundamental physics and economics should drive the true solution. I'm not sure we know what that is yet, and that's really what we're doing here. This is a journey of discovery to say 'what IS the right solution?' There is also the 'wheels' camp, I should mention. I think it sort of depends on if you have a lot of twists and turns in the track and you're essentially limited on G's then wheels would actually make the most sense for such a track. If you have a really straight shot and you can go a really long straightaway then you may exceed the speed wheels can really handle and overheat the wheels or have them not function very well. So I think for wind-ey tracks it would probably be wheels and then it's sort of up in the air what it would be for a longer range track where you really try to push the limit. Because ultimately you could go trans-sonic in the tube, and trans-sonic on wheels would probably be questionable %u2026
[A question about the competition itself: why has SpaceX changed the rules 1 weeks before the design weekend?]
We were just trying to make it difficult! No, I think %u2026 overall there may be some tweaks before the actual competition because we really want this to be something that you can see an evolutionary path to a real system. Real Hyperloops that can be deployed around the world and used by millions of people. So for the competition itself, because it's a 1 km track, there's certain things you could do to kinda game it but that really wouldn't work on a 200 mile track. We want this to be something where the ideas are extensible to practical use.
[What could people that aren't here do to advance the speed at which the pods come out, and when so you think we could see the first Hyperloop in action?]
I think the tests on the 1 km track are going to be fairly interesting, and then I think that'll be pretty exciting and get a lot of attention. And then we'll try to do a longer track, like a 5km track. I'd encourage people that are interested to sort of just join the competition. Just generally sort of support the idea of new forms of transport. Even if ultimately what gets built is something that's quite different from what I wrote about in the paper, I think that would still be great. You know, if we're making people's lives better, getting them to places conveniently with more safety and faster %u2026 I really like that idea that you could live in one city and work in another city and you can move fast enough that you can actually do that. It frees people up. Just gives people more freedom.
[If you could change anything in the document what would you change?]
Probably, if somebody was going to build a working Hyperloop and try to make it work "I would advocate starting with the simplest useful system. So I'd probably advocate wheels. And then you can sort of say 'OK it's working %u2026' Essentially, if you're trying to create a company it's important to limit the number of miracles in series." You want to start off with something that's the most doable and expand from there. At SpaceX we started off with what we thought was the smallest useful orbital rocket (doing roughly 1000 pounds to orbit). And it's a good thing we did that, because we really didn't know what we were doing and the first three rockets didn't work. If we had tried to do something much bigger or more complicated then we probably would have run out of money and died; we barely made it as it is. So, that in general I think is good advice for people creating a company: start with the minimally useful system - something that you think is still compelling - but then leave future technologies for future upgrades.
[Have you have any thoughts on the extra-terrestrial application of the Hyperloop?]
On the application of the Hyperloop?
[Yeah, like maybe we can use it on Mars?]
Oh, sure, yeah yeah. Actually on Mars you basically just need a track. On Earth the air density is quite high but on Mars it's 1% of Earth's atmospheric density so probably %u2026 you might be able to have a road honestly. You'd go pretty fast. But it would obviously have to be electric because there's no oxygen so you could have really fast electric cars or trains or things. Electric aircraft %u2026
[Will the competition continue next year?]
Yeah, definitely! I have a good feeling about this. I think the work that you guys are doing is going to blow people's minds. I mean they really have no idea that there's this level of sophistication going into pod design and then, like I said, we also want to get some work on what's the most economical way to build the test track because things get complicated over long distances where the landscape and subside and rise a little bit and then you have earthquakes and things. I think, given this level of enthusiasm, there's no question we're going to have another Hyperloop competition. I think it's going to get better and better.
[Do you see the first Hyperloop being built in the US or overseas?]
I actually don't know. I think wherever it gets built would be great. The thing that's really going to convince people is if they can take a ride in it. So, wherever it's built, it needs to be something that gets used a lot. Where ideally the economics prove out and people like riding it. Wherever that's done I think those are the important criteria for it to expand more broadly and be used widely throughout the world.
[Did you come up with the name?]
I came up with the name, yeah. I guess it was sort of a loop, ya know. You go back and forth in a loop %u2026 I thought, in the limit as it got more and more sophisticated, you should be able go to hyper-sonic velocity. So it's sort of a hyper-sonic velocity tube.
[Will the pod be made in China?]
It might be. I mean, I'm just keen on seeing it happen somewhere. It's exciting and inspiring to think about new forms of transportation or new technologies that make people's life better. Wherever they happen, I think it's great. As soon as it happens somewhere and people see it really works out I think it'll quickly spread throughout the world.
[One bit of advice %u2026]
You want to do a lot of dry runs with your pod. Test it out very thoroughly in as close to the competition conditions as possible. That's the most likely thing to lead to success. Because it's amazing how much even a small thing that goes wrong can take something that would have been maybe a winning pod but ends up in the crash pit.
[Does SpaceX or you personally have any plans to back one of the Hyperloop companies in the future?]
We don't have any specific plans to back Hyperloop companies. Right now we're just trying to, in general, support the idea and support innovative thought in transport. It's possible we would back a team but we're trying not to favorite one organization over another; we're trying to be as neutral as possible and just generally be helpful.
[What is your next great idea?]
Well, I have been thinking about the vertical takeoff and landing electric jet a bit more. I think I have something that might close; I'm quite tempted to do something about it.
[How do you convince people your ideas aren't crazy?]
Actually that's generally what they thought. In starting SpaceX they definitely thought I was crazy. One of my best friends complied a long video of rockets crashing and made me watch the whole thing. There's some other friends of mine that had been involved in a rocket startup: they said it was a terrible idea. But I kind of thought that we had a really tiny chance of succeeding anyway. Like maybe on the order of 10% or something. So people said it would probably fail and I would agree with them. And it was very close; we just barely made it with the fourth launch succeeding of SpaceX. I think ultimately seeing is believing: seeing physical hardware moving and doing things is what convinces people.
[Can the Hyperloop be in countries like India where there's desperate need to get rid of gasoline cars? Do you think something like this can happen in countries like India?]
I think as soon as it's shown to work, shown to work safely, and that the economics are good %u2013 it is important to bear in mind both the physics and economics of a system like this %u2013 I think it would get deployed all around the world. Certainly in high-density cities like Delhi. I did forget to mention on the ideas front %u2013 I think this is really a very simple and obvious idea and I wish people would do it %u2013 build more tunnels. Tunnels are great. It's just a hole in the ground. It's not that hard. But if you have tunnels in cities you would massively alleviate congestion. And you could have tunnels at all different levels. You could probably have 30 layers of tunnels and completely fix the congestion problem in high density cities. So I strongly recommend tunnels.
[What was the formative moment in your life that made you go 'OK I'm going to DO these huge, amazing, awesome things?]
Well I didn't really think I would do these things. I just knew I wanted to be involved in things that had at least the potential to change the world, and that would be at the forefront of technology. I was basically going to be working on advanced energy storage technologies for electric vehicles in grad school at Stanford and then the internet came along. I was like 'well, I could try working on a new form of ultra-capacitor' which is what I was trying to develop, but then I wasn't sure success was one of the possible outcomes. So maybe it would succeed maybe it wouldn't. But then the internet was really something that was going to change the world and most people outside of Silicon Valley didn't even know it existed. So I thought 'I'm going to be involved in the internet, I can help build a few things there and get back to electric cars later' which is what happened. Then on the space thing: SpaceX didn't actually start out as a company, I was just sad that we had not sent people to Mars. So it actually started out as I wanted to try to fund a small philanthropic mission to Mars, to send a small greenhouse to the surface of Mars. So you'd have the furthest life's ever traveled, the first life as we know it on Mars, and you'd have this great money shot of green plants on a red background. So that would be something that I think would get the public excited. And then if the public got excited they would give NASA more money and we could continue the dream of Apollo. That was the intention. And then as I learned more and more it became clear that, unless there was a fundamental improvement in rocket technology, an exciting future in space was not possible. In order for us to be a space-faring civilization and out there among the stars, we need dramatic improvements in rocket technology. In particular, reusable orbital rockets. So then I tried starting SpaceX to solve that problem. But, like I said, "I thought 'it's probably not going to work.' But then for the philanthropic mission, the greenhouse to Mars, I was 100% certain of losing the money that I put in there. So being only 90% likely to lose it for SpaceX seemed like an improvement."
Yeah, it's cool. You know SpaceX has got a big test facility / rocket-development facility %u2013 depending on what you consider 'far' or 'near'- it's not THAT far from here. We've got a big development facility in McGregor so I'm there quite a lot. Always have a good time.
[Do you think that the transportation revolution will potentially get us out of this global economic distress?]
The world economy will move in cycles and we'll have recession and boom and bust times. I think, generally, working on something new and exciting gets people fired up to take action. It could help a little bit. I think generally one should always expect there's going to be a boom and a bust period in economies and in recession times everything seems gloomy and in boom-y times everything seems amazing, but really it's kind of a sine wave.
[From what you have seen so far from students, do you plan to involve students more in SpaceX projects, especially when it comes to launching vehicles and everything?]
Uh yeah, we would certainly %u2026
[We need a promise.]
SpaceX and Tesla are always looking for great engineering talent. I would definitely encourage people to apply if they were interested in working on rockets or electric cars or batteries.
[Our team will be going to competition weekend and we won the sub-system safety design award, will you sign our design award?]
Ok %u2026 how many of these are there? You know what, anyone who wants those signed bring them back and I'll sign it.
[Can you talk about the team that works on the interior of the Dragon capsule.]
Yeah uh, we're building the interior to look nice and feel futuristic. It needs to feel like a real spaceship.
Hopefully there's more than one company that builds Hyperloops. As long as there's competition, competition is good for innovation. Ideally you'd want an industry where there's at least three or four entities competing. That, I think, tends to lead to the best level of innovation because any company that sort of stays stationary with their technology will be exceeded by their competitors.
[When can we see a Falcon9 Heavy launch?]
Falcon 9 Heavy is supposed to launch towards the end of this year. I'd say maybe late summer.
[Could it send something to Mars?]
Yeah, absolutely. Even Falcon 9 can send something to Mars. So if Falcon 9 could send maybe 3-4 tons to mars, Falcon Heavy could send maybe 12-13 tons to Mars.
[So you say that men will be on Mars in 9 years %u2026]
[%u2026 where else do you plan to send men? Venus, Europa, what are your plans after Mars?]
Well I think we'll send men and women, but Venus would be %u2026 I wouldn't recommend Venus. Venus would be a hot, high-pressure acid bath. But Mars is very doable. The moon is doable. You could do some of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, potentially asteroids. But I think the most important thing is to create a self-sustaining city on Mars. That's, I think, the critical thing for maximizing the life of humanity; how long will our civilization last. If we are a multi-planet species it's likely to last a lot longer. And if we have a self-sustaining city on Mars that's going to create a huge forcing function for the improvement of space transport technology. And then that could ultimately lead us to go beyond the solar system.
I'll have to take that as my last question. Thank you for coming, I think you've done an amazing job.
(I can't create new transcripts) https://youtu.be/uEAf2TPcxrY?t=288 "I have a sleeping bag in a conference room adjacent to the production line which I use quite frequently"
https://youtu.be/yIia_3eZaqI?t=523 "30-35 million dollars... Imagine there was a pallet of cash, that was vomiting through the atmosphere, and it was going to burn up, and smash into tiny pieces. Would you try to save it? Probably yes. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Umm, So, yeah, we want to get it back."