future-fight-promo-0218 Virgin Hyperloop One/ Volocopter

When Futurists Fight, Industry Wins

Elon Musk and new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi recently had a social media spat over which is better: flying cars or the Hyperloop. Is it really a debate that they both could transform how the world does business?

While your kids may intently follow feuds between Youtube stars, socialites or rappers, or some unholy royal rumble of the three, for the mature, genuinely sophisticated industrialist, there’s really nothing better than the bosses of billion-dollar dork fighting about theoretical tech. Case in point: the recent twitter kerfuffle betwixt Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk and new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

You’d think the leaders of two mega-companies working on self-driving vehicles, both engineering-savvy immigrants representing the apex of the American dream, would have so much in common. But you’d be wrong. The Uber CEO believes the future of transportation lies in the skies and Musk is digging in tube-based hyperloop trains, (literally, because he owns the giant-hole carving Boring Company.)

“There will be people flying around Dallas, Texas,” predicted Khosrowshahi at a Munich tech conference last month. “I think it’s going to happen within the next ten years.” 

Technically, it’s already happening, as the Volocopter VC200 lifted off at CES. Daimler invested $30 million in the German startup.

And Boeing has outsourced the idea of personal flying devices with its GoFly Prize, which is awarding up to $2 million to anyone who can demonstrate a working prototype to help humanity realize its dreams of personal flight. This could be a jetpack, flying car, or flying motorcycle. There’s still time to submit your own contraption, but keep in mind Phase I winners will be announced May 29 and the final fly-off is scheduled for Oct. 2019.

Musk brings the idea back to earth by raising a few valid points.

If you were worried about delivery drones being a nuisance, larger flying vehicles operated by assumingly self-interested people would be much, much more troublesome. The Hyperloop would travel much faster exceeding 700 mph, could be underground (out of sight, out of mind), and run rather quietly.

Virgin Hyperloop One says about the noise: "We anticipate the noise you’d hear from the outside the tube as the pod goes by at more than 500 mph would be equivalent to the sound of a truck with no wheels and no engine going 65 mph down a freeway. In other words, just a big whoosh."

These points might carry more weight if not salvoed by the competition. Not so coincidentally, the Boring Company just obtained a permit for preliminary excavation to create an underground hyperloop tunnel between New York and Washington, D.C. And if you didn’t already know, it was Musk who first proposed the idea of the hyperloop, a magnetic-levitation train enclosed in a near-vacuum tube. Aside from the Boring Company, he doesn’t have a business directly related to Hyperloop, though SpaceX has encouraged the innovation and development of pod designs through an engineering competition. Letting others do the hard work of proving a Hyperloop can actually go as fast as he hypothesizes might be his biggest stroke of brilliance. Why spend years on testing and failing, ultimately fighting for a sliver of market share, when you could just own the roads?

"We anticipate the noise you’d hear from the outside the tube as the pod goes by at more than 500 mph would be equivalent to the sound of a truck with no wheels and no engine going 65 mph down a freeway. In other words, just a big whoosh.

Debating the merits of flying cars vs. sonic trains is silly —not because both are 1950s notions of what the future would look like, but because they aren’t mutually exclusive to transporting people and things. A flying Uber might work to get you across town to a meeting, while a Hyperloop would be much more efficient to get you from your Boston office to argue the merits of autonomous child care nanny bots before Congress. Likewise, a manufacturer that needs to replace an A/C drive on a critical pump would want a tech flown ASAP with part in hand to make repairs and save production, but those raw materials you’ve been waiting on could be expedited from the shipping port via a hyperloop freight pod.

It’s all about giving business more options. Diversity in the workplace is nice, but diversity in logistical solutions is essential.

Yes, we need A-type futurists to fight amongst themselves about which is better, to instill confidence in investors and their workers. If I were to force my lead engineer to miss her child’s big game to solve a minor technical problem, she must believe it’s for a greater cause than it will make us look good in the 24-hour news cycle. It’s hardly news if Uber’s CEO were to say, “Flying cars will be cool, and so are super fast trains.”

But instead of looking at what individual futurists think, it’s wiser to see what a city of them. That would be Dubai. The city leveraged its oil reserves into a series of forward-thinking investments and innovations, and now looks like the capital of an advanced alien planet. Dubai is betting on both.

Working with Virgin Hyperloop One, the city’s Road Transport Authority unveiled a new prototype pod that could carry 10,000 passengers an hour between it and Abu Dhabi. The 86-mile trip would take 12 minutes. The system could be up and running by 2020.

Virgin Hyperloop One

Meanwhile, the Volocopter already has taken an unmanned flight across its futuristic skyline


So while everyone loves watching a few geeky geniuses battle it out over what tech is better, it’s best to listen to the quiet rich kid in the corner actually making it all feasible.

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