Elon Musk has executed some crazy ideas over the years.
The South Africa-born entrepreneur co-founded PayPal in 1998 and sold the online-payments service to EBay four years later for $1.5 billion. He also helped start the electric-car company Tesla Motors, which has a market value of about $18 billion, and the rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies. He runs both of those companies and is also the chairman of SolarCity, one of the biggest providers of solar power systems in the U.S.
Despite his accomplishments, Musk isn’t ready to fly his spaceship off to a quiet planet somewhere and retire just yet. Instead, he’s talked about his next grand visions, such as making electric planes, developing a new mode of transportation and constructing an entire city – on Mars. Given that he has enough ideas to last several lifetimes, the 42-year-old billionaire might want to add ‘eternal life’ to his list of projects.
Here’s a look at some of the ambitious plans and dreams swirling inside the mind of Musk. We’ll wait and see which ones become reality.
How would you like to ride in a 28-passenger pod that zips through a steel tube at 760 miles per hour? That’s the concept Musk unveiled on Monday. The Hyperloop, which he describes as the “fifth mode of transportation,” would be capable of taking passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 35 minutes for $20 a ticket, according to his plans.
“It will actually be a lot like being in an airplane,” Musk said on a conference call with reporters. “There will be an initial acceleration, and once you’re traveling at speed, you wouldn’t notice the speed at all. So it will be really smooth, like you were riding on a cushion of air.”
The solar-powered Hyperloop would cost about $6 billion to develop, and Musk said he’s willing to plow some of his own money into the venture. Contrary to earlier statements, Musk said he’d probably build an operating prototype himself, though not immediately.
“I would like to see it come to fruition,” he said.
Supersonic Electric Jet
What’s cooler than an all-electric plane that can fly at supersonic speeds? One that can take off and land vertically.
“I wish somebody would do that,” Musk said during a video chat with entrepreneurs last week. “If somebody doesn’t do that, maybe at some point in the future, I will.”
At supersonic speeds, an aircraft could go from London to Shanghai in about seven and a half hours. That compares with more than 11 hours for a nonstop commercial flight. An electric plane would have major environmental benefits, and the ability to launch like a rocket would enable airports to eliminate runways and be much smaller, Musk said.
There are many reasons why space travel is expensive, but here’s a big one: Rockets can only be used once. Musk’s SpaceX is developing a vehicle that can fly through space, re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, land vertically on a launch pad and still be able to take off again later. Today’s rockets typically shed parts before returning home and then crash land into the ocean.
SpaceX has built a suborbital test rocket, called the Grasshopper, which has successfully launched and landed safely. The next steps include building rockets that can go on journeys through space and back.
While SpaceX has launched rockets from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the company wants to build its own commercial spaceport in Brownsville, Texas. That location is considered to be a frontrunner site for its development plan, Musk said at a conference in March.
SpaceX is expected to allow other companies to use its port, although all the logistics around commercial launches haven’t quite been figured out.
Let’s hope Musk doesn’t find himself saying, “Brownsville, we have a problem.”
Tesla Store in Texas
Tesla wants to open stores in Texas. That may not sound like a bold idea, but state law forbids automakers from selling cars directly to consumers in stores. The law was designed to prevent big automakers from undercutting dealers and driving them out of business. Musk wants to change that, while auto dealers are fighting to keep things the way they are. Tesla has showrooms in Texas, but it can’t sell cars through them or offer test drives.
Beyond Tesla’s Roadster sports car and the Model S luxury sedan, Musk has talked about a variety of other electric vehicles he’d like to make. Among them, the Model X is an electric sports-utility vehicle with gull-wing doors like the DeLorean in Back to the Future; a more affordable electric sedan; and an all-electric pickup truck for the all-American environmentalist.
Cars With Autopilot
Tesla has been considering adding driverless technology to its vehicles and held discussions with Google, Musk told Bloomberg News in May. While Google has coined the phrase “self-driving car” for the technology it’s developing, Musk prefers the term “autopilot.”
“Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do,” Musk said. “Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”
Musk wants to be able to drive from Los Angeles to New York by recharging his electric car exclusively at Tesla-owned stations along the way. And he wants to do it this year. Tesla said in May that it’s building charging stations from coast to coast, which should help broaden the luxury automaker’s appeal. Without these stations, drivers are limited by the car battery’s range of about 265 miles. A supercharger can repower a Tesla car in 20 to 30 minutes.
Refueled by Robots
Some of Tesla’s supercharger stations will be home to another one of the company’s inventions. In June, Musk unveiled a battery-swapping system for the Model S that removes and replaces the car’s 1,000-pound lithium-ion battery with a fully charged one in just 90 seconds. The demo showed robots swapping packs in two cars faster than one Audi sedan could be refilled with gasoline. Musk wanted to show how an electric car can be more convenient than a gas-powered vehicle.
Source: Noah Berger/Bloomberg
Fixing L.A.’s Traffic
Like most people who spend any time in Los Angeles, Musk laments the city’s traffic.
“I’ve super had it,” he told the L.A. Times. So he donated $50,000 to Angelenos Against Gridlock, a local advocacy group that wants to fix infrastructure in California and other U.S. cities. “If it can actually make a difference, I would gladly contribute funds and ideas.”
Help for 787 Dreamliner
“Desire to help Boeing is real,” Musk wrote in a Twitter message in January. He also said he was corresponding with the aircraft’s chief engineer.
80,000-Person Colony on Mars
Perhaps all of Musk’s inventions — solar- and electric-powered vehicles, reusable rockets, PayPal (now with its own interplanetary commerce system) — are parts of a grander scheme for the final frontier. Musk has said he wants to build a colony on the red planet that can support 80,000 people.
“I’ve said I want to die on Mars,” Musk said at a conference in March. “Just not on impact.”