We talk a lot on CleanTechnica about future forms of transportation, with a lot of that focus landing on the technologies that are revolutionizing transportation for people around the world today — electric vehicles. As such, a lot of attention lands on Tesla Motors as the company bringing the most innovation to consumers, but to only talk about Tesla Motors would be to miss out on the man behind the company.
To clear up a persistent misconception about Tesla — Elon Musk did not create the company (that was Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning), but he has been instrumental in scaling the company up over the last decade and is currently the CEO.
Elon Musk is a man with a vision… or, more accurately, a man with many visions. He started one of the first internet banking companies, which later merged with Paypal, started Space Exploration Technologies (aka SpaceX) and, as mentioned earlier, has been instrumental in bringing Teslas to the masses. One of Elon’s crazy ideas started with Los Angeles traffic. On the way to a talk, Elon was stuck yet again in the infamous LA traffic and kept thinking to himself that there must be a better way to get around cities than millions and millions of cars.
When he finally arrived at the talk (an hour late), his frustration boiled over and he popped off that he was working on an idea that would revolutionize transport, without really knowing what that idea was yet. Having formally committed to delivering something, he started talking through the idea with colleagues at SpaceX and Tesla and, 2 days before it was actually shared, put together a concept paper for Hyperloop.
The name came from the idea that the track would roughly be a loop and that the pods would be able to travel at hypersonic velocities (for reference, that’s in the range of 3,806–7,612 miles per hour or 6,126–12,251 kilometers per hour!!). The idea was thrown out to the masses as a seed idea and, from that single paper, companies have been started, teams at universities have been assembled, and career paths have been changed.
To help the idea along, SpaceX started the Hyperloop Pod Competition to encourage the best ideas and get them out into the public to allow teams, companies, and individuals to begin iterating through what is an extremely complex design process for a completely new mode of transport. For the unfamiliar, the hyperloop concept is essentially a closed tube, held at a vacuum to minimize air resistance, with pods that are either on wheels or levitated, then propelled through the tube at ridiculous speeds… and hopefully stopped at the other end.
On January 29th and 30th, SpaceX and Texas A&M University hosted the Hyperloop Pod Competition Design Weekend, which brought together in person or virtually most of the teams participating for an engaging weekend of discussion and idea sharing as the last precursor to the actual competition:
“Since we first unveiled the idea for a new high-speed ground transport system called the Hyperloop back in 2013, there has been a tremendous amount of interest in the concept. We are excited that a handful of private companies have chosen to pursue this effort.
Neither SpaceX nor Elon Musk is affiliated with any Hyperloop companies. While we are not developing a commercial Hyperloop ourselves, we are interested in helping to accelerate development of a functional Hyperloop prototype.
For this reason, SpaceX is announcing an open competition, geared towards university students and independent engineering teams, to design and build the best Hyperloop pod. To support this competition, SpaceX will construct a one-mile test track adjacent to our Hawthorne, California headquarters. Teams will be able to test their human-scale pods during a competition weekend at the track, currently targeted for Summer 2016. The knowledge gained here will continue to be open-sourced.”
As a special bonus, Elon Musk attended the event, gave a quick talk, and opened the floor for some unplanned, non-media-oriented Q&A, where the discussion was primarily focused on Hyperloop, starting a new business, and the like.
Elon shared a few unique nuggets at the event… advocating anyone starting a company like Hyperloop to start with the minimum viable solution (akin to the classic minimum viable product focus of startups). This enables young startups to deliver and get feedback on a real product that consumers can use, complain about, fall in love with, and essentially get feedback from the market on. From this feedback, the startup can iterate with continuous improvements. I have heard this called “better done than perfect.”
Building on a minimum viable product, Elon encouraged the entrepreneurs and engineers in the room to really vet the idea and the design through rigorous testing of the product in as close to real world (or test track) conditions as possible. Looking back at where Elon has come from, there is a clear tie to his experience at SpaceX and Tesla, where rocket launch failures or a single issue in a Tesla drive motor can very easily cost millions or even billions of dollars.
A student-led team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) won this round of the competition, with teams from Delft University in the Netherlands, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Virginia Tech, and the University of California at Irvine coming in second through fifth, respectively.
Not one to quit dreaming just because he’s short on hours of daylight or limited energy, Elon shared that he might already have the next big idea ready to punt… or to act on: VTOL. In English, that’s Vertical Take Off and Landing… or something else. It sounded like he was already excited about the “next” idea and said that it “might close” though he wasn’t clear if that was for funding or just to finish shaping up the idea before punting it out into the world. Elon shared that he is “quite tempted” to try the idea and just left the cliffhanger at that.
Overall, it was a neat surprise appearance for Elon and the interview questions and answers went a different, fun direction vs the normal barrage. The full version of the awards ceremony is on uStream here.
If you want just the Elon bits, head over to YouTube:
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