Hyperloop: Another innovative idea from the USA

The latest idea by Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and now known for Tesla Motors and SpaceX has been released to the world. Musk envisions using magnets and fans to shoot capsules floating on a cushion of air through a long tube, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. With an expected travel time of just 30 minutes, in a paper outlining the Hyperloop proposal, it was suggested that the solar-powered system would be a faster, safer, less costly, and more efficient mode of transport between Los Angeles and San Francisco than the high-speed train currently under development. The idea has created a lot of discussion across the internet. There are engineers debating whether the idea would even be possible; there are economists wondering if the cost would be worthwhile; environmental warriors worried about the energy needed and members of the public just amazed at the idea and wanting to travel on the proposed machine. But this article isn’t about whether the idea is good or not, but about how it’s another example of innovation to come out of the United States that seems to be lacking elsewhere.

Ideas such as Hyperloop have been freely flowing out the US in recent times, led by the wealth of entrepreneurs who grew rich in Silicon Valley. We’ve seen Google, led by Sergey Brin, develop driverless cars and Peter Diamandis lead a proposal to mine resources from passing asteroids. At first, Google’s cars seemed crazy, but now they’re working and deployed. Diamandis’ idea might seem crazy now, but it to, in addition to Hyperloop, could soon become much more than concepts. All of these ideas are still worthwhile pursing no matter how crazy they seem. If we didn’t innovate, we wouldn’t push the human race forward. If Hyperloop works, it could become the de facto transportation method around the world – cheaper and more attractive than high speed rail.

More evidence of the unique innovation coming out of the US can be seen in the evidence that has recently been released by Independent Airports Commission. With around 50 submission in total, ranging from Heathrow’s 3rd runway campaign, to our own London Medway Airport proposal, most of the ideas are reasonable ideas that attempt to solve our aviation capacity problem through a combination of existing airport concepts. There are very few “out-of-the-box” ideas. Amongst them comes a novel idea from the US, with a proposal called Exhaustless suggesting to use the power from the electric grid to provide a boost to aircraft, similar to the technology used by an aircraft carrier, to reduce the distance needed for take-off. This allows for more take-off runways to be placed on the same land. While the proposal says that investment is needed to develop the idea further, it’s at least promising, and like the Hyperloop project, is an innovative solution to an existing problem. There is nothing of this sort from anybody in the UK, with the other “out-of-the-box” proposal coming from Germany, for a “drive-thru” airport.

Innovation is an important part of economic growth. The ideas that might seem crazy one day, such as an iPhone or the Internet, eventually become the foundations on which companies are created and thus provide a foundation for job creation and economic growth. For example, many years ago, people would have thought that it was crazy that people would be able to fly around the world. Nowadays, it’s a common idea that has allowed international trade to flourish and people to be able to travel around the world, as well as supporting a huge aviation industry with companies such as British Airways and Boeing.

These new ideas coming out of the US allow the country to benefit if they do indeed become “the next big thing.” Their companies will lead the world, able to export the ideas and take advantage of the ideas first. There’s no doubt that the UK has a similar level of expertise and good entrepreneurs willing to take risks just like Elon Musk. Yet, it doesn’t seem like it is resulting in the same level of ideas and innovation as seen in the US. Whether this is an issue with research, regulation or talent, this needs to be sorted to help with the rebalancing of the economy and the future of the country. And as long as these innovative ideas keep coming out of the US, the country will do just fine and continue to stand tall, helped by Silicon Valley.