In less than three months, Elon Musk’s idea for a new form of high-speed transportation went from being a mere concept to a project that top engineers around the country are taking seriously.

People seem to be getting behind Musk’s Hyperloop — a tube-like highway system where people travel in capsules at a high rate of speed across the U.S. Although the attention may be due to Musk’s status as CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, with a company in place and a search for talent and funding underway, media publications are already envisioning what a country connected by Hyperloop might look like.

The prospect of reducing travel times compared to air travel and slashing costs both to developer and consumer is part of the reason people are so compelled by Hyperloop, said Patricia Galloway, co-leader of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. Others are intrigued by the idea of a crowd-sourced and partially crowd-funded project, developed by engineers with a startup spirit.

Since it was announced that Hyperloop Transportation Technologies was working on the concept, more than 3,000 people have contacted the company wanting to work on the project. Galloway said the process of weeding through applicants is almost complete and she and her partner, Marco Villa, former director of mission operations for SpaceX, will narrow their selections down to 15 to 20 people by the end of November.

Galloway revealed that among the most promising candidates is one with a “strong connection” to the airline industry.

First Steps

The Hyperloop timeline is still vague in places, as the company has not yet determined how many prototypes will be built and what type they will need to be. Galloway said she expects they will need to build multiple prototypes, but the details of how many and what kind will partially depend on the funding and partners available.

For example, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies will likely need a prototype that can be tested in a wind tunnel, but the details of a full-scale model operational model will depend on where they can find a place to build. The company doesn’t want to get bogged down by regulations and approval processes, as it hopes to host prototype demonstrations by the end of 2014.

Villa has expressed optimism about the possibility of solving any engineering obstacles they encounter and delivering on their promises. Galloway pointed to her own experience launching one-of-a-kind projects exceeding $1 billion in costs and also pointed out that Villa has experienced similar success at SpaceX in his capacity as director of mission operations, leading the first successful privately-run launches and recoveries, as well as approaches to and departures from the International Space Station.

Galloway believes Hyperloop has a high probability of being completed as planned. She said people are excited by the idea and are jumping to be a part of its development. She thinks it’s attractive to people because it has the potential to disrupt the status quo.

Working on the project won’t be lucrative in the short term. Hyperloop employees will work for free, part-time or full-time until probably mid-2014. Galloway added that until the company can pay its workers, they will accrue hours that will be translated into stock options, but as with many startups, that’s a sacrifice many people are willing to make.

Rattle the Cages

A form of viable ground transportation that competes with airlines is sure to appeal to many travelers, but will also likely threaten some airline companies. Hyperloop hopes to meet with airlines to see how they can work together. Galloway said while she recognizes that not all airlines will be open to new ideas, there are some that embrace new technology, and they will be the ones to survive in a changing transportation market.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies also aims to collaborate with land-based transportation systems. Galloway said that will be a big part of the company’s strategy and hopes to meet with the California High Speed Rail Authority in the near future.

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com