What will the mass transit of the future look like? Elon Musk, founder of space transport company SpaceX and electric-car company Tesla Motors, thinks he knows — and he calls it the Hyperloop.
But maybe the sketches Musk recently released to the public are too abstract for you. That's where 3D printing comes in: A company called White Clouds has taken Musk's Hyperloop mock-up and 3D printed a to-scale model of what it might look like .
"When we saw the plans that Elon Musk was laying out for the future of transportation, we were really excited about the technology aspects and wanted to help promote the concept through 3D printing," said White Clouds CEO Jerry Ropelato. (Full disclosure: Ropelato is a board member and former CEO of TechMediaNetwork, which owns Tom's Guide).
The Hyperloop would consist of cylindrical cars with tapered noses on both ends, which travel in an enclosed circular tube instead of on rails. This design is supposed to allow the Hyperloop cars to travel safely, without derailing or colliding, at high speeds.
Ropelato challenged five White Clouds designers to turn Musk's plans into a to-scale 3D model in 24 hours, which they achieved using computer-aided design software called SolidWorks, as well as Maya and 3DS Max Design.
Musk's Hyperloop sketches are two-dimensional, so the White Clouds designers had to turn them into 3D models by hand.
Once the 3D models were complete, the team used three different types of 3D printers to create the separate parts: the Connex 500 for the pillars that keep the tube aloft, The ProJet 3500 HDMax to print the tube itself in a clear resin, and the ZPrinter 650, which is capable of printing in different colors, for the pods and the station platform.
"It took us 21 hours from concept to final build," Ropelato told Tom's Guide. "To combine the finished three parts took five minutes. That was part of the beauty of 3D printing, allowing us to easily connect the various parts."
Musk describes the Hyperloop as a "fifth mode of transportation" after planes, trains, cars and boats. He first mentioned his idea for safe, cheap, high-speed mass transit in 2012, and since the designs were posted on Aug. 12, they've been both highly praised and scathingly critiqued.
Did 3D printing the Hyperloop give the White Clouds team any unique insight into whether the Hyperloop is a feasible mode of public transit?
"When you build a scale model, it really brings into perspective how large this project really is," Ropelato said. "We are excited to see if Elon's project will be given its due consideration."