Whether Elon Musk really belongs in the same hagiography as the Wright Brothers or Steve Jobs is up for debate -- unless, of course, we're talking about his attitude.
Great inventors are famously single-minded and stubbornly ambitious, all qualities that Musk has in spades. And if we learned anything from his well-publicized spat with New York Times writer John Broder, it was a new definition of the word "megalomaniacal."
But yesterday Musk gave us a new invention on a napkin that might surpass all his previous wacky ideas: The high-priced electric cars; the venture-funded SpaceX exploration plan; even the jeremiad against mainstream journalism.
Called Hyperloop, this latest transport innovation would launch passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 35 minutes, using capsule vehicles that would shoot through a series of tubes at 760 miles per hour.
The cars would float, hovercraft-style, on a thin cushion of air, through a pipe that would largely run along the median of Interstate 5. So far, it's about the closest anyone's come to teleporting.
Musk has no plans to actually execute the Hyperloop, since he's too busy tinkering with other science projects. But he insists that anyone who wants to pick up the idea could do so for roughly $6 billion, about a tenth of the cost of California's $68 billion, never-going-to-happen high speed rail network.
That worried Atlantic technology writer Alexis Madrigal, who saw the hyperloop as yet another opportunity for a private venture to get in the way of public infrastructure. Apparently, he has little to worry about, since many engineers have already cast doubt about the physics behind Musk's 57-page proposal. That's not to mention the problem of securing land-use permits for the tube system, and whatever other regulatory snafus he runs into along the way.