In each issue of Distro, Executive Editor Marc Perton publishes a wrap-up of the week in news.

DNP Editor's Letter Is Hyperloop loopy, or the future of public transportation

If you can say one thing about Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors, it's that he thinks big. After making his fortune by selling his online payments company to PayPal, he's focused on creating entirely new industries, including commercial rocketry and electric cars. His latest idea, the Hyperloop, could eclipse both of those, at least in creative vision. The high-speed transportation system is basically a modern take on the pneumatic tube, and could potentially hurl travelers from Los Angeles to San Francisco at over 700 miles per hour, bridging the two cities in just about a half-hour. The cost to taxpayers: a mere $6 billion.

Whether or not the Hyperloop ever gets built, it's already done something few public works projects ever have: kindled the imagination and excited everyone from tech writers to commuters. As Josh Fruhlinger says in this week's Distro, "The entire tech community screech[ed] to a halt this week, as Musk revealed the Hyperloop." The media reaction may have included skeptical comments like the LA Times editorial that, as Josh points out, called the Hyperloop the "latest of many wacky LA transit ideas," but that hardly matters. When was the last time a high-speed rail system (OK, it's not technically a rail system, but still) got this kind of attention? Proponents of better public transportation in the US have watched for decades as bullet trains in Europe and Japan became faster and more efficient, and the best America could offer was the Acela. Maglev? No thanks, we'll take the car. The Hyperloop may never reinvent inter-city transportation in the way Musk envisions. But if his proposal reopens the debate over the future of such transit networks, it's already served a valuable purpose.

The Hyperloop may never reinvent inter-city transportation in the way Musk envisions. But if his proposal reopens the debate over the future of such transit networks, it's already served a valuable purpose.

From the futuristic skyways of California, this week's Distro travels to the streets of Cape Town, South Africa, where companies like Google and Microsoft are trying to bring high-speed internet access to a country where ADSL is a luxury that costs over $100 a month. As Darren Murph points out, while the new systems, which use "white space" spectrum borrowed from TV broadcasters, may initially benefit local ISPs and well-heeled consumers who can afford premium access, "it's the second wave of beneficiaries that matter most. Due to the low cost of implementation, schools, libraries, restaurants, laundromats and untold other public facilities will soon have a viable and affordable option for getting connected." Eventually, Darren says, the technology could reach impoverished communities throughout Africa "at a far more sensible cost" than other communication technologies, such as mass cellular rollouts.

Like Musk's Hyperloop, it's entirely possible that white-space internet will never achieve the mass appeal its investors are hoping for. But focusing public attention on the infrastructure and education needs of a struggling continent can't be a bad thing. And given the track records of both Musk and Google, it's entirely possible that in a few years, Californians will be shuttling up the coast in aluminum pods, and African schoolchildren will have the same access to the world of technology that kids in most other countries take for granted.



This piece originally appeared in Distro #103.

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Editor's Letter: Is Hyperloop loopy, or the future of public transportation?