When Elon Musk unveiled his newest and maybe most ambitious invention to the world last August, a next-generation transportation system called the Hyperloop which would use vacuum tubes to shoot passenger pods at incredible speeds, many scoffed, writing the project off as a zany pipe dream of a globetrotting tycoon. One Israeli blogger —maybe in oblique reference to the still unrealized Tel Aviv subway or the Jerusalem light rail which took twenty years to hit the tracks—craftily announced in an April Fool’s Day headline that the Hyperloop would soon be coming to Israel.
But far from a joke, the truth is that unless the Hyperloop —which promises to bring us closer to energy independence by massively reducing travel costs while dramatically increasing speeds—does come to Israel it’s likely to remain a game-changing invention tragically trapped on paper.
There’s been much failure associated with the dream of “vactravel,” which first appeared in the work of sci-fi writer Michael Verne (Jules Verne’s son) and was almost attempted in England in the 1960s. As energy price continue its decade long climb, today both China and Sweden have launched research initiatives in hopes of building the first vactrain, but so far, have little to show for their efforts.
But Musk’s innovation, which enjoys the advantage of relatively recent leaps in the fields of fluid dynamics, thermodynamics and electromagnetism, proposes to elegantly solve the riddle to vactravel by using magnetic propulsion to fire pods through air-less tubes, which, theoretically, could allow for supersonic speeds without the penalty of a sonic boom. Though the Hyperloop doesn’t promise quite that, it could reach speeds of up to 700 mph (powered completely by solar energy, to boot). This means an Israeli could travel from Tel Aviv to Eilat—half the length of the country—in less than 30 minutes.
That’s an important number. Israel’s economy, which is currently bogged down in a complication of geography and infrastructure, is in desperate need of a transportation revolution. With the OECD’s most expensive cars traveling on the most congested roads alongside the least amount of rail track, Israel, which has scant room for new infrastructure, has in consequence seen property prices skyrocket in major cities, causing rising dissatisfaction, as peripheral areas have languished.
With threats on all of its borders, Israel also has the most motivating of all factors—national security—to justify the kind of financial and infrastructural investment the Hyperloop requires. The ability to almost instantly transport troops and equipment to its borders would result not only in a military advantage but a strategic initiative that could measurably bolster Israeli deterrence, providing it long-term economic stability, and maybe even bring us closer to elusive Middle East peace.
But if the Hyperloop’s success depends on the ability to produce a working prototype (as Musk recently admitted) Israel is without a doubt the strongest—if not the only—candidate right now. As an innovation-based economy, Israel has proved exceptionally adept at incubating big ideas and its track record for transforming unproven technologies into market-ready solutions is impressive. Developing some of the earliest and most advanced anti-missile missile systems, fielding the first UAV, and building the world’s most successful desalination systems, Israel consistently undertakes big projects often deemed too complicated, too expensive and, indeed, too fantastic to ever be successful.
But more than technical prowess, the Jewish state’s insistence on trying where most others have not ventured is the key to unlocking the seemingly impossible technical challenges like the Hyperloop. Many countries around the world have the same need for cutting edge, high-threshold technologies such as the Iron Dome or desalinization. But more often than not, that need doesn’t always translate into successful programs—or even into failed attempts.
For whatever reason, Israel has a healthy inferiority complex that not only compels it to prove the naysayers wrong but frequently leaves them breathless. The Hyperloop, a spectacle of technology filled with uncertainty and surrounded by tremendous risk, brims with enormous potential, lending it just the sort of allure that can attract Israel’s best and brightest to its banner, which it will certainly need.
The truth is that many factors could derail the Hyperloop. But it’s here that Israel offers Musk something far more precious than investment and deregulation: it offers him the unmatched potential of a national commitment reinforced by public consensus that innovation is the only way forward and powered by the will to overcome known and unknown hurdles that certainly stands in the way of the Hyperloop.
While many countries—maybe even most of them—might shy away from these odds, in the Silicon Wadi, the prospect of failure gives off a glimmer of opportunity when success is a journey, just as much as it is a destination. This most especially when it comes to an Israeli inspired Hyperloop. If Elon Musk really wants to see his latest invention take shape, his road starts in Tel Aviv.