I’ve never shied from my belief in Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) founder Elon Musk—his record to date as a visionary in all things tech can compete with all but perhaps Edison and Da Vinci. Early this week saw the serial entrepreneur share his long awaited visions for the future on transportation, at least between corridors that boast a need and cities worthy of the cost.
Essentially, Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s Musk envisions using air pressure to hurtle people in pods through metal tubes at a speeds of over 760 miles per hour. And this man has already had his rockets travel at considerably higher speeds before docking with the International Space Station.
The idea is nothing new, it’s just Mr. Musk’s voice that is making new again. In 1972, Rand Corporation researcher R. M. Salter proposed a similar conveyance that would travel faster than Mr. Musk’s “Hypertube.”
In fact, the first mention of “a plan for the rapid conveyance of goods and passengers … by the power and velocity of air,” dates back to 1812 with the proposal of British inventor George Medhurst.
Tesla’s Musk idea is over 200 years old
British entrepreneurs took up the cause in the in the first half of the 19th century but were unable, at the time, to construct a truly airtight tube of any size. Fast forward a few years to American Alfred Ely Beach, who later went on to publish Scientific American magazine.
Beach suggested both an elevated tube transport, like Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Musk’s, as well as a subway that would be powered by air pressure promising speeds of up to 100 miles per hour or, “four times the average speed of many of our best railroads.”
After years of determining the best means of going about his plan, in 1867 Beach built a prototype of an above-ground tube that allowed visitors to travel 107 feet at the American Institute Fair in New York.
In 1870, after years of excavation and secrecy, Beach invited visitors to pay a quarter to be blown through a tube by a powerful 20-ton blower in an adjacent room. The car was a model of posh comfort and allowed for 20 people to ride comfortably. “The whole arrangement,” promised Beach’s Scientific American, “is as cozy and comfortable as the front basement dining room of a first-class city residence.”
New York model idea died for over 100 years
While it never traveled above ten miles per hour, it was still a marvel, and Beach was tight with the famously corrupt New York politician William “Boss” Tweed who could “sweep” away or kill, quite literally, potential detractors.
Unfortunately for the project, Tweed was finally charged with misuse of city funds, and the idea died for over 100 years.
I doubt that Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s Musk’s project will even stall the proposed (very slow) bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, slated for a construction cost of over $60 billion (that will certainly cost over $100 billion), and a groundbreaking in 2014. I hope that its failure will force more people to look at the feasibility of this 200 year old idea utilizing today’s technology.