This week crazy-like-a-fox billionaire businessman Elon Musk introduced his latest revolutionary concept, the Hyperloop, and then gave it away to the masses as an open source project. Musk’s previous successes include Paypal (without which much online transactions wouldn’t happen), Tesla (an electric car company that’s profitable for a change), SpaceX (a private company that is helping NASA get payloads into space with an eventual goal of Mars(!)), and SolarCity (affordable solar panels for home and business; It remains to be seen if this will fall into the success category, but it seems likely with a net positive in the profit column last quarter).
Hollywood director Jon Favreau has said he modeled his version of Tony Stark, aka Marvel’s Iron Man, at least in part after Musk. But I think Tony Stark is the wrong model. Musk reminds me more of late period Walt Disney, when Walt had his eye on the future, not just of entertainment and the Disney Company, but of the planet as a whole and improving the lives of those who live on it. His gained steam with Monorails (mass transit), moved onto PeopleMovers (person rapid transit (PRT)), and dabbled in energy efficiency and recycling. Then Walt united all his theories and took on the mother of all urban planning projects – EPCOT, the experimental prototype community of tomorrow. With EPCOT, Walt wanted to build a working community where he could partner with industrial explorers with a similar vision for the future.
That is essentially the same vision as Elon Musk; which is why I think there is a natural partnership between Musk, his companies, and The Walt Disney Company. To get started, create the partnership for the purposes of building a working prototype of the Hyperloop at Walt Disney World. Musk, or his team, would be involved enough to oversee things, but most of the R&D would be left to Walt Disney Imagineering. The resulting prototype would be a great first step to making a full scale Hyperloop a feasible project to get past local and state governments.
Disney’s Imagineers already have much of the expertise needed to build such a system. They have experience with air-bearings (from the Flying Saucers ride in 60s to the revisited version at DCA), mass transit systems (Monorail, PeopleMover, etc.) and for years they used a garbage disposal system at the Magic Kingdom that magically whisked away trash right from the curb side down an air pressure driven pipe. They also have good contacts in the coaster and mass transit construction industries, so finding suppliers would not be difficult.
While Elon Musk’s Hyperloop vision calls for a medium travel distance of 350 to 1100 miles (below that shared cars, high speed or light rail, and busses probably work best; above that it makes more sense to travel via supersonic flight in terms of time (although not energy efficiency)) and larger passenger pods capable of holding 28 passengers (and potentially larger cargo and auto transport pods), the proof of concept could be done on a smaller themepark attraction scale with technology already in use in the parks today.
A Linear Induction Motor (LIM) launch (as used on DCA’s California Screamin’), air cushion (like on Luigi’s tires) , steel/plastic tubing (in use at water parks), and safety systems built on Disney’s proprietary ride systems used on its monorail and coasters (proximity and power fail options) are all existing and ready to be combined into a new attraction. Passenger pods with a six person capacity using in-line seating would keep the diameter of the pipe down and minimize the need for air pumps, The most difficult part to build would be the passenger cars themselves with a strong enough fan to provide sufficient lift on the air-bearings but not too much weight.
Since it’s a theme park attraction the LIM would only provide acceleration upto around 90-120 MPH and with a small G-force (equivalent to California Screamin’ launch today). It would then coast on air back to the station banking slightly around the curves. This would keep the cost consistent with building a new E-Ticket attraction.
There are probably a dozen good ideas for a theme, but here’s my favorite idea: run it in a big circle around the exterior of EPCOT and theme it to a particle accelerator (the search for higgs boson particale comes to mind). It could be the new Journey through Inner Space and provide a great opportunity to retheme the Wonders of Life pavilion.
Want to attempt something slightly grander in scale? Replace the aging monorail system with a single loop that connects all four parks and downtown Disney via a medium-sized Hyperloop. This is probably not feasible for capacity reasons as the capacity of a small hyperloop would not be enough to replace the monorail system. But two parallel loops running in opposite directions might work.
A frequently complaint is that Epcot no longer has that visionary feel it once did now that real world technology has caught up with the originally revolutionary concept. There is nothing more revolutionary today than traveling cross country at 700MPH+ for less than half the cost of a theme park ticket. The Hyperloop provides Disney the opportunity to get back in the game and to partner with another revolutionary force – Elon Musk. I hope they take it.