The hyperloop is near

AUSTIN, Tex.—Speaking to a packed ballroom at the Austin Hilton, Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk outlined Tesla Motors’ plans to reintroduce legislation during the 2015 Texas legislative session to allow the electric car manufacturer to sell direct to consumers. Musk’s trademark off-the-cuff style seemed to sit well with the audience, which applauded several times when Musk talked about how he believes allowing consumers to buy direct from Tesla was the right thing to do.

The session was topical but ultimately a reiteration of things Musk has discussed before—Texas’ biennial legislative session means that Musk was restating a lot of the things he’d said about Texas throughout 2014. However, the almost Steve Jobs-ian “one more thing” announcement that Musk chose to tack onto the end of the keynote seemed to garner the most attention: Musk plans to build a Hyperloop test track, approximately five miles long, and he plans to do it “soon.”

Musk originally put forward the idea of the Hyperloop in 2013, presenting a 56-page document that showed aluminum pods being shuttled between San Francisco and Los Angeles at 760 mph, through low-pressure tubes with magnets that are fed an electric current. The Hyperloop would be solar powered as well, Musk specified, and cost only $6 billion to build (which is a theoretical pittance compared to the projected cost of California’s plodding High Speed Rail project). Still, after announcing the idea, Musk told reporters in 2013 that he had no time to execute the plan and would be open-sourcing it so other researchers might take it up.

Appropriate to the venue, Musk also said that Texas was “the leading candidate” for the location of the test track. The plan with the track, at least for now, would be to fund it privately, entirely with money from Musk’s ventures (though which corporate entity would provide the funding wasn’t fully explained). Once constructed, the test track would be both a proving ground for the Hyperloop technology and also an open facility where universities and other research institutions could experiment with and iterate on the Hyperloop prototype technology.

Coming on the heels of a somewhat strained admission earlier in the keynote that Musk wouldn’t have chosen Texas for his SpaceX launch facility if not for the tax benefits provided by the state, the idea of Texas being the leading location candidate for the facility is a bit surprising, especially considering the state’s infamously hostile attitude toward Tesla Motors’ direct car sales. However, assuming Musk is successful in the 2015 legislature, Texas’ feelings toward Tesla might be about to change—especially with a new Hyperloop facility potentially on the way.


Why everyone may have a personal air vehicle in the future

We are going to have personal air vehicles that are both cars and planes, at least that’s Missy Cummings’s vision of the future. It’s basically the intersection of a drone with a robotic car, so that your plane is also your car, but the big leap in technology is that you are actually driving neither, says the Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Drones have a negative bias in the media, says Cummings, because they are essentially seen as spy cameras. But most people don’t realise that when they are on a plane they are effectively travelling on a drone. The fly-by-wire technology that exists on all Airbus and many Boeing craft is the exact same technology that exists on drones.

The reason why drones are the answer to the future is that the truth is we are terrible drivers. Humans inherently have a half-second lag in almost any quick response that they need to have, like a ball rolling out in a street or seeing an aircraft in the sky and you have to take evasive action. Even a half-second delay can mean the difference between life and death, and computers and automated systems don’t have that – they have microseconds.

So, our transportation network of the future, both on the ground and in the air, will actually be safer when we turn it over to computers.

There really aren’t any technological hurdles to this idea, says Cummings. The biggest hurdles we have are psychological and cultural, in terms of giving up the car. But no new tech needs to be developed to have your own personal flying car. What we have to do is improve production and reduce manufacturing costs, and what that means is that we need more robots. So this is almost a self-circular process, where we need robots to build robots to make them cheaper.

Should we worry about the machines rising up and taking over? No, what Cummings says she is worried about is hackers and terrorists who want to do wrong. One of the things she is working on is trying to develop technology that allows any flying robot to be able to fend off any attack and be able to navigate itself without any GPS or any other external signal.

There are lots of different possibilities for what your personal air vehicle could look like. You could own your own in your driveway or garage, and you could jump in it. Or we could have a shared network like the plane version of Zipcar. People should be excited about this: it promises much in terms of safer travel, and in parts of the world where the road and air networks are poor, people will be able to get the goods and services they need.

So, when we look at globalising this concept of personal air vehicles, it means we will see the quality of life improve dramatically for everyone around the world.


3G? 4G? No, it’s 5G – WoooooooW

South Korea has announced a $1.5 billion plan to upgrade its network to 5G capability by 2020.

“We helped fuel national growth with 2G services in the 1990s, 3G in the 2000s and 4G around 2010,” the country’s science ministry said in a statement Wednesday. “Now it is time to take preemptive action to develop 5G.”

The 5G-services are expected to be around 1,000 times faster than current technology — making it possible to download a full-length film in a second.

The year 2020 is also the deadline set by telecom giant Huawei for a 4G network in China, and by the E.U. for its next generation networks, but South Korea’s investment far exceeds the $600 million and $950 million earmarked by the Chinese and the Europeans respectively.

Tests with the 5G technology are also being carried out in Japan and the United States.

South Korea, already the world leader in connectivity, is looking to increase its share of the infrastructure equipment industry with this ambitious roadmap. Priority is being given to developing features such as ultra-HD and hologram transmission as well as new social networking services.

Globally, the 5G network is intended to make space for an expected seven trillion connected devices in the 2020s.