Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk generated brouhaha in 2013 when he proposed a high-speed mass transit system that could travel at just under the speed of sound. “It’s a cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table,” Musk wrote in a white paper on the so-called Hyperloop, in which he conjectured a reduced-pressure tube design for transporting humans and freight between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just 35 minutes. The paper remained open-source, but neither Musk nor his companies, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, seemed interested in commercially developing the Hyperloop, despite spawning a slew of unaffiliated startups like Hyperloop Technologies and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. But all that is about to change. SpaceX is hosting a competition for students and independent engineers to build their own transport pod prototypes and try them on a one-mile test track the spacecraft manufacturer is building outside its Los Angeles headquarters. Entrants have until September 15 to submit designs for the competition, which will be held in June 2016. The design brief for the competition is available here. Prior to the competition, there will be a design weekend meetup in January at Texas A&M University for companies to network with entrants and potentially sponsor or contribute funds to the construction of a pod prototype. While the prototypes must be built to human scale, for safety reasons no one is permitted to ride them on the test track competition weekend. In his white paper Musk envisioned an elevated, reduced-pressure tube containing pressurized capsules which are driven by linear electric motors. Air bearings on the inner surface of the tube reduce friction, allowing the contraption to—gracefully—whoosh past at 760 mph. “Just as an aircraft climbs to high altitudes to travel through less dense air, Hyperloop encloses capsules in a reduced pressure tube,” Musk wrote. In the competition brief Musk underlines that neither he nor SpaceX is commercially developing a Hyperloop of its own; the competition, according to Musk, is merely to accelerate the development of a prototype.
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Speaking of rumors, Texas Monthly spread the word that Silicon Valley billionaire visionary Elon Musk may be locating facilities for two of his future-looking companies in the Lone Star State. Musk’s SpaceX has been buying up land in Cameron County in South Texas with the implicit purpose of building a space facility on the site to launch an expedition to Mars. In more terrestrial affairs, the South Africa native is also considering building a battery factory in the state for his electric car company, Tesla Motors.
On Monday, members of LA’s design and architecture cognoscenti descended on the Tesla store on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade to celebrate the official relaunch of KCRW’s DnA (Design and Architecture). The event featured a discussion between DnA host and executive producer Frances Anderton and Elon Musk, the visionary founder-CEO of Tesla and Space X. Those present included Michael Rotondi, Ray Kappe, Thom Mayne, developer Tom Gilmore, and Getty architecture curators Wim de Wit and Christopher Alexander. After ten years as a monthly on-air program, DnA will re-emerge as a more comprehensive weekly podcast and blog. To help curate what’s being billed as “DnA 2.0", Anderton is enlisting the talents of local design journalists—or “DJs”—that she has hand-picked. “I’m thrilled that we will increase our coverage of, and participation in this creative community and the work that shapes our lives,” said Anderton. In the discussion Ms. Anderton honed in on Mr. Musk’s hands-on approach to design and innovation and how his operations are solidly based in California. “I like to be close enough to be involved,” he said. “With outsourcing, something we at one time considered, you lose the potential for innovation in the process.” Questions from the audience ranged from whether science fiction played a role in his work—“Definitely Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and Heinlein”— to if he could solve LA’s traffic problem. “I’ve got a design for a double-decker freeway worked out,” he said. When a young member of the audience asked about flying cars, he thoughtfully responded that he thought the challenge wasn’t getting the cars to fly but in preventing them from crashing into everything. When asked if he had any advice for architects about getting more visionary buildings erected in Los Angeles, Mr. Musk demurred, saying “I wouldn’t presume to give advice. The problem isn’t the architects. We just need more clients here who want to put up visionary buildings.”