Hyperloop: The Promise is in the Project’s Approach

jzemlin's picture

Entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk this week shocked and awed us with an innovative design for what transportation could look like in the not too distant future. He proposes a solar-powered, aluminum pod that moves with pressurized air through a tube at about 800 miles per hour.

Crazy? Maybe but so have been many of the ideas proposed by the smartest people in history before their concepts became part of our everyday lives.

What’s most interesting to me and what I think reinforces a common theme among entrepreneurs and inventors of our time is how Musk is approaching this project:

Hyperloop is a new mode of transport that seeks to change this paradigm by being both fast and inexpensive for people and goods. Hyperloop is also unique in that it is an open design concept, similar to Linux. Feedback is desired from the community that can help advance the Hyperloop design and bring it from concept to reality. - - Hyperloop Alpha, Page 6

The approach sounds familiar. Twenty-two years ago this month Linux creator Linus Torvalds posted his “crazy” idea on the web:

“I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby won’t be big and professional like gnu)...I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome....”

Musk knows from Linus’ experience and his own that this approach works. He has leveraged collaborative development and Linux for both Tesla and SpaceX. SpaceX uses Linux for mission control, among other things, and Tesla uses it for its In-Vehicle-Infotainment (IVI) system.

This open design and solicitation for feedback is one of the primary ways that Musk can propose this solution at 11X less the cost ($6B) of the transportation system currently proposed by the State of California ($70B). It will also result in less time to build the system and faster speeds and efficiencies once it is built. Lower cost, accelerated pace of development and more innovation are the benefits of collaborative development. Thanks to Linux and the path it blazed for collaborative development, today we know that by sharing ideas, technology can be spread and is adopted much more rapidly.

Musk is among the greatest inventors and innovators of modern time: Torvalds created a free and open operating system that would run most of modern day society; Berners-Lee chose not to patent the WWW, opening up a communications vehicle that would radicalize the way we interact as a global community; and Zuckerberg took the “Hacker Way” philosophy to innovate on top of both Linux and the web to build what today is the most visited website in the world. These geniuses know that no matter how high their IQ, they don’t hold all the answers needed to transform the world - but the community does.

This week we also saw a lot of naysayers respond to Musk’s proposal. We certainly experienced this with Linux in the early days. As for Hyperloop, regardless of what we see come to fruition, whether the exact plan for Hyperloop as it’s described today or something different, opening up the design and calling on others to contribute and participate will accelerate development for a transportation system that costs less and outperforms existing technology.