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US Transportation Secretary says Elon Musk's Hyperloop could be the next ‘moonshot'

US Transportation Secretary says Elon Musk's Hyperloop could be the next ‘moonshot'


A big thumbs up for a pretty far-out idea

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The Hyperloop — the super fast, super conceptual, tube-based transportation system popularized by Elon Musk — has its fair share of skeptics. But not US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Foxx said the Hyperloop is a "very solid idea" that merited further beta testing, and that the federal government had a "responsibility" to support the idea. In fact, the Hyperloop could be eligible for federal money, through the University Transportation Centers grant program, he said. All in all, it was a pretty strong endorsement from the Obama administration for an idea that many dismiss as a pipe dream.

"We should not take, and have not taken a reflexive ‘no' position to innovation," Foxx said of the federal government. "And that's the signal I wanted to send today." He added, "I think we should lean into it."

Anthony Foxx
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx meets with one of the Hyperloop teams at SpaceX's competition.

Fox was Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, Friday to deliver the keynote address at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Design Competition, where over a thousand high school and college engineers from all over the world were presenting their designs for the best Hyperloop pod. The students greeted Foxx with a standing ovation, and after his speech, in which he lumped the Hyperloop in with self-driving cars to laud a "special moment in transportation," they peppered him with questions about right-of-way acquisition and the government's position on the futuristic mode of travel.

"How do you make it happen?"

Foxx was clear that "a lot of research" still needed to be done before the Hyperloop could become a reality. "Everyone I know who knows the science suggests to me that its a very solid idea," he said. "The question is, in practice, how do you make it happen.

Three companies are currently engaged in that task: SpaceX, Hyperloop Technologies, Hyperloop Transportation. All three are in the early stages of building tracks on which to test the propulsion and levitation technology that undergird the Hyperloop.

It should come as no surprise that Foxx would offer his tacit support for the Hyperloop; the secretary has been aggressive in his support of new technologies in transportation. Earlier this month, he announced a $4 billion commitment in federal funds over 10 years for autonomous vehicle research. And he said that the Department of Transportation would produce guidance for states on making rules governing self-driving cars.

But just because it may take years, even decades, before the Hyperloop delivers its first passenger (despite some public proclamations that it could be ready for the public by as early as 2017), doesn't mean it is not an idea worth supporting, Foxx said. "I think you have the potential for a moonshot here," he said.