Meanwhile, the “ebil” venture capitalist Elon Musk, through his many contributions through his many companies, has helped develop:
- reusable rockets that could potentially send people to Mars.
- solar roofs that help generate electricity while being more durable and competitive than regular roof shingles.
- electric cars that are more affordable and energy efficient than their fossil fuel counterparts.
- a revolutionary high-speed train that can travel faster than an airplane by traveling through a vacuum tube, all the while being more energy efficient.
- an automated underground car tunnel that could potentially alleviate traffic jams and allow cars to travel up to 125 mph.
OK, these must be corrected.
The reusable rocket that exists has absolutely ZERO chance of getting people to Mars, since it doesn't have the lift capacity to get a big enough payload to orbit to significantly contribute to such a project. That needs a real heavy-lift rocket, which is a whole different project.
Solar roof tiles have been around for AGES, and are more expensive and less durable than regular ones, and even in the unlikely event that his live up to the marketing hype, they will only by just as good as conventional roof-top solar panels over conventional roofs, which are a fairly marginal economic payback.
His electric cars are heinously expensive and hard to obtain due to low supply. (Seriously, you can buy a HOUSE for less.) The thing he HAS developed is the critically required ability to charge the batteries in a sane time, making electric cars a workable means of general transportation. When it takes multiple hours to recharge the car, it simply isn't workable. (You might note that when Heinlein, who was an engineer by training, described the use of electric cars in his stories, it was most often in the context of swapping out the battery packs because when he was writing there was no battery technology that could charge fast enough to recharge the batteries inside the car in a practical time period.)
The Hyperloop won't work as described. And his cost projection is blatantly and obviously a lie. If you check the 'technical paper' it completely ignores engineering realities Elon Musk cannot avoid knowing about, as he lives in California. Those who live in most of the world are used to soil that shifts slowly under load (requiring careful attention to foundation design for any large or heavy structure), but in California the crap that makes up the ground practically DANCES, and most of the state has soils that are just one slip plane over another. There is no mention of foundations for the support pylons or any allowances for their costs. The thermal expansion of the tube is also just hand-waved, despite it amounting to over a hundred feet over the length of the tube and the rate being enough to make the ends of the tube move visibly on a timescale of minutes. The only comparable system in actual use for the thermal expansion effect is, oddly enough, existing railroads. They mostly use continuous welded rails (with mostly no expansion joints), but the rails are fixed to the cross-ties, which are in turn embedded in compacted ballast, to prevent motion, and each point only has to resist the motion of, at most, a few feet of rail. Even with that, rails can still buckle in hot weather and this has to be inspected for. (They can also break under contraction in cold weather, but this is much easier to detect and less likely to cause a catastrophic failure.)
And, of course, Elon's own statement about his tunnel boring machines, quoted in the article linked to about why the US cannot build transportation infrastructure quickly:
"We're just going to figure out what it takes to improve tunneling speed by, I think, somewhere between 500% and 1,000%," he said that same weekend, during a design competition at SpaceX. "We have no idea what we're doing — I want to be clear about that."
The notion of any sort of underground highways is total pie-in-the-sky at this point. (The engineering requirements for doing this are absolutely insane. I live just outside Ottawa, Canada, where there is currently a major subway line being built. It's had two major sinkholes formed so far, and that's just digging under the streets. If you want a really extensive and high-capacity network of road tunnels, you'd need to be able to go under existing buildings, which in some places means through the bedrock, and that's a whole new mess of problems. If you end up needing to use some kind of carrier for the car, which the speed quoted would suggest, and you have that kind of density of coverage, you'd probably be more efficient just having people use small transport pods...and now you've built an underground version of BART. Which might just be a really good idea, if you can set a destination on a per-pod basis, which is certainly possible with modern communication and control systems.)