What it is: Elon Musk has started multiple companies to push technology forward, but will it be enough?
The big question isn’t what Elon Musk is doing with his multiple companies but why aren’t world governments doing what he’s doing to advance technology and make the world a better place? The simple answer is that the first priority of any government is self-preservation, so pushing technology forward is never as important as providing health care benefits and retirement benefits for government officials.
As an individual, Elon Musk has done more to help the world than all the world’s governments put together. His SpaceX company is launching satellites into orbit cheaper and more efficiently than any government could ever do. His Tesla electric car company is offering clean vehicles to eliminate smog. His Hyperloop company plans to deliver fast, efficient mass transit. While all of these accomplishments are amazing by themselves, they’re even more astounding coming from the influence of one person.
SpaceX makes perfect sense. Create reusable rockets and lower the cost of launching satellites into orbit. NASA’s space shuttle tried to do that but the cost of maintaining a reusable vehicle proved far more expensive than using expendable rockets.
Where Elon Musk gets it slightly wrong is with Tesla and Hyperloop. Tesla cars simply replace gas or diesel engines with electric motors. While this provides clean transportation, it does nothing to reduce traffic congestion that clogs roads in every major city in America. The Hyperloop mass transit system is just a faster train, but even a faster train can’t reduce traffic congestion since trains can only go to a limited area. If you want to get from a train station to your ultimate destination, you can’t rely on Hyperloop.
Both Tesla and Hyperloop are simply better versions of existing technology. If everyone switched to Tesla electric cars, we’d still have parking problems and traffic congestion. If we put Hyperloops everywhere, that would ease transportation over long distances but do nothing to ease travel within cities. A Hyperloop might get you from San Francisco to Los Angeles quickly, but will do nothing to help you get around Los Angeles once you get there.
The real future of Tesla and Hyperloop isn’t in making a better car or train, but altering transportation altogether. Right now the most convenient transportation system is a car. Hop in your own car and you can go anywhere you want. The big problem is that thousands of other people are trying to do the exact same thing, which causes rush hour traffic jams. The future of cars or trains isn’t faster or cleaner vehicles, but optimizing transportation capacity, and that’s something Tesla and Hyperloop fail to do.
Tesla is part of the solution, which is clean electric cars. But that’s only part of the solution. The other half is self-driving, ride-sharing systems like Uber. When the cost of taking Uber several times a day over the entire year is much less than the cost of owning a car, few people will want to own a car. That takes a huge chunk of cars off the road because the existing cars on the road are being shared.
Instead of driving a car and parking it where it sits idle and takes up space, ride-sharing will let a car transport many people around at all times of the day. Even when masses of people are trying to go in the same direction, ride-sharing lets passengers do something else besides wasting time driving. You can text, write, sleep, read a book, watch a movie, use a laptop, or do practically anything you can do at your desk. This can boost productivity by eliminating the need to drive, and that’s something Tesla cars by themselves can’t do until they gain fully autonomous self-driving capabilities. An electric motor is a step in the right direction but not the complete step. We need to get rid of gas-powered engines and get rid of the need to waste time driving ourselves and selfishly storing our cars on vast amounts of real estate known as parking lots.
The Hyperloop is great for moving masses of people quickly over long distances, but it too is only part of the answer. Once people arrive at their destination, they need ride-sharing to take them where they really want to go. The Hyperloop train station is not where people want to go, so they’ll need short-range transportation from there.
Tesla is helping pioneer electric cars, but car ownership is not the future. Hyperloop trains are helping pioneer mass transit, bullet trains, but long distance efficient transportation is just part of the answer. The missing key is affordable, short-range transportation that will come with ride-sharing. Whether that means self-driving cars or someone driving you around doesn’t matter as much as eliminating the need for you to drive or even own a car. The real transportation revolution will come through ride/car sharing.
Cars are a luxury item. They’re getting too expensive to own and maintain, and too inefficient to use. Ride-sharing is the future and that can include Tesla electric cars and Hyperloop trains, but Tesla cars and Hyperloop trains aren’t the complete solution.
Elon Musk has most of the answers and he’s helping point society in the right direction (which governments rarely do). Once Tesla and Hyperloop become everyday products everyone can use, the final piece of the puzzle is ride-sharing, and that’s the real future of efficient transportation that takes you exactly where you want to go.