Bring to Walt Disney World: The Hyperloop

wdw-hyperloop-pods

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Previously: My proposed solution to Walt Disney World’s Transportation Problems.

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12 Responses to Bring to Walt Disney World: The Hyperloop

  1. Kaz says:

    The problem with replacing the monorail system is that (for the first couple of times, at least), people like to watch Disney property go by while riding the monorail. That being said, once the thrill wears off, the trip form MK to Epcot can feel awfully slow. Especially since you have to loop through Epcot before disembarking.

    Now, for transport from the airport to Disney, THAT I could get on board with for the hyperloop!

  2. SB says:

    With an advanced transportation system, you could build large parking lots away from the parks with a “grand central station” that would feed all the parks. People could still drive to the individual parks, but if the system works correctly there would be much less congestion on Disney roads, and much less need for buses.

    • John Frost says:

      Agreed. The most likely reality is with the advent of Google self-driving cars coming down in cost a lot of this conversation will become moot. PRT shuttles will soon take over WDW’s roads, hire-a-car services will take you medium distances, and you’ll join in a highway-train of highspeed Google cars driving 120-140mph on the road to cover distances of 75-300 miles apart.

  3. Jul says:

    I’m sorry, but your idea of replacing the current Monorail System with a LIM operated system is completely preposterous.

    First of all, take into account the sheer price of only one mile of monorail track. Let’s just say ten million is under estimating it, and that’s just the low technology concrete pillars. I couldn’t help but laugh when you claimed it would be about the cost of an E-Ticket.

    Secondly, why replace something that works? The Monorail System while aging can handle capacity flawlessly, and performs well and is quite reliable. At the very most a new train model could be developed with more capacity and technology like the upgrade from Mk. IV Monorail to the current Mk. VI Monorail.

    Lastly, the idea is even worse than a blue sky phase of anything. It’s ridiculous. The Hyperloop is meant to travel super long distances, like a Japanese Shinkansen on steroids. Implementing a prototype of any sorts (which wouldn’t happen anyway, not a true Hyperloop prototype) would be plain stupid. It’s meant to traverse distances faster than a plane could.

    You say Elon Musk and his corporations are a natural fit with The Walt Disney Company? Wow. I’m sorry, but TWDC hasn’t innovated upon much since a long time ago. The Disney Company you were describing was the company of 1964, not 2013. Not to mention the two conglomerates “innovate” in two completely different professions, entertainment and transportation. The PeopleMover doesn’t count as an innovation.

    I don’t have anything against you or your blog, I very much so read it every day. Although this column was completely outrageous. I say keep the current Monorail system, it works, and it handles the capacity at WDW excellently.

    Finally, I doubt Imagineering has the technical experience to create something like this. The LIM idea would be good if feasible, but the tube through which the passenger capsule of the Hyperloop travels is an enclosed vaccum, which would allow the capsule to travel the most aerodynamically efficient thanks to virtually no air resistance or drag. I don’t think having experience with Saucer rides can help create a vaccum filled tube.

    All in all, this is simply not conventional, and I would be surprised if it ever even showed up as a blue sky phase of a project, because it is a bit too much of wishful thinking.

    • John Frost says:

      Jul,

      I think you misread my post. The E-Ticket cost was only to apply for the ride at EPCOT and with R&D costs born in major part by Musk’s consortium. If it was to be a full on transportation system, it would have to be much more robost. The question of cost benefit would have to be applied, but I suspect the cost would be similar to buying a whole new Monorail fleet and certainly less than expanding the monorail loop to include all four parks and downtown Disney. I admit that I am thinking of Disney’s vision circa 1964, but that there have been signs that there’s still some life in WDI. Let’s see if we can bring it back with the Hyperloop.

  4. Jul says:

    And one last thing. The Hyperloop is not designed to travel on air. The current model and only one Elon Musk would be willing to create is the vaccum sealed tube. This is clearly a better choice than the “ride” you proposed operating on air bearings. I mean come on, how conventional would it be to have a mass transit system across the forty three square miles of the WDW Resort operating on air bearings? That’s ridiculous.

  5. Pingback: Could Google provide a solution to Walt Disney World Transportation Issues? | The Disney Blog

  6. Disney Mike says:

    I have to ask, what would the point of such an attraction at Epcot be? To circle the park in 30 seconds? You wouldn’t see anything. You wouldn’t experience anything other than g-forces. If it went slowly enough to see things, I could understand, or if it were an actual transportation system where you could get on at the main gate and get off somewhere in the World Showcase, it would make sense.

    • John Frost says:

      Like I said, I’m sure there’s a better ‘theme’ to the attraction than I could come up with in a short brainstorm. Also, I imagine Disney might use some clear tubing in sections, since the lower speeds won’t require everything to be metal.

  7. Disney Rocks says:

    I personally think that all of this fighting is ridonkulous! Keep the monorail because I really like looking at the disney scenery! Also, i am worried about the elderly and the wheelchairs and strollers. I know if my grandma went on the hyper loop that when she gets off, I better call the funeral home. Also no one in a wheelchair can go on a hyper loop. I’m sorry John Frost, but this is the worst idea since Da Vinci tried to walk on water: it will never work. I’m on Jul’s side with this issue

  8. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc. is currently being crowdfunde. Prototype planned for early 2015.

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