The Weekly Tech Overload: Trapped in the Hyperloop

Hyperloop
Happy Friday, dear readers. Let’s get right to it. This ultimately was a slow week on the tech news front, but it got off with a bit of a bang thanks to the long-awaited revelation of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. It’s a conceptual means of high-speed, low-cost transportation that harkens back to many concepts of the ’50s and ’60s. Namely: a train able to go very fast thanks to a near-vacuum enclosure. Air resistance and imperfect tracks are the biggest limiting factors to train speed, and Musk’s concept of a windowless, aluminum enclosure kills both birds in one, dual-barreled shot.

Trains would ride inside tunnels significantly reduced (though not entirely eliminated) internal pressure. Remaining air would actually be used to help those trains along like hovercraft, gliding along on a cushion of gas. According to Musk the cars could travel at 800 miles per hour and connect Los Angeles to San Francisco for a build cost of $10 billion or less — far less than the far slower $70 billion train system approved in 2008.

These conceptual machines could conceptually cover that distance in 30 minutes or less, but it’s easy to see a series of practical concerns. The sketches of the Hyperloop show windowless, featureless cars with a 2 x 14 array of heavily reclined seats. These trains swoop through windowless tubes, meaning any sight-seeing would have to be done via the in-seat entertainment units, which would be standard fare for all passengers. (An unnecessary cost, in my opinion, given the short duration of the trip. Just give ’em WiFi.)

The whole thing would be solar powered and seemingly perfectly safe, but I’m a bit concerned about what happens in emergencies. Tacked on to the end of the Hyperloop Alpha specification is a brief explanation of what happens in a power failure or an earthquake, when the trains could be manually stopped and onboard power and oxygen supplies would ensure nobody would asphyxiate or slam into the car ahead at greater than the speed of sound. However, there’s no mention of what happens in case of fire. How does one get out of the car and, more importantly, through the low-pressure tube to safety? Not answered. To hear more on Musk’s thoughts for the program, check out Ashlee Vance’s Businessweek piece, which scooped the rest.

BlackBerry’s Dwindling Strategic Alternatives

BlackBerry this week confirmed what we’ve already known for some time: that it’s accepting bidders, exploring multiple “Strategic Alternatives” in business-speak. The company’s shares are currently trading at about $11, and All Things Digital’s John Paczkowski indicates buyers would likely be paying no more than $12 or $13 — assuming one could be found. And what would they be buying? One option would certainly be to pick up the company’s patents and go trolling, a portfolio said to be worth between $2 and $5 billion. Another aspect of an acquisition could be to pivot the company to focus on the services game, but without a strong hardware platform and a trend toward cloud-managed email and calendar services, I wonder just how strong licenses of things like BlackBerry Enterprise Server would continue to be. Here’s my wildcard suggestion: buy the company, sell off QNX (for a fair bit more than RIM paid for it in 2010) for a quick cash infusion, and then make the best damned productivity-focused Android handset on the planet. That Q10 keyboard plus a series of BB10-style UI optimizations on top of Gmail would be a sweet thing indeed.

Sony Lens G

We got some interesting pictures of the supposed Sony Lens G, a 20.2 megapixel lens and sensor package that clips onto the back of other smartphones, apparently connecting over WiFi and writing directly to a discrete SD card. It’s said to be Android and iOS compatible and coming “soon.”

Google Glass Update

Google Glass received another update this week, adding to the ever-growing flurry of cards, including traffic warnings, reminders of dinner reservations, and even the ability to find movie showtimes. That last one is a bit odd, since no self-respecting theater would let you walk in while wearing Glass — and you can’t just take off the headset and put it in your pocket. Two new voice commands have also been added, including “post an update” and “take a note.” Right now they’re supported by Path and Evernote, respectively, but Google promises more discrete commands are coming. I suggest “hold my beer” to automatically start recording a Vine.

Xbox One Launch Delayed in Parts of Europe

Bad news for my friends in The Netherlands: the launch of the Xbox One has been delayed until 2014 for eight European nations. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland have also been affected. Those who’ve already put their money down will get a free pack-in game when the system finally launches sometime next year. Microsoft didn’t give a specific reason for the delay, vaguely citing localization factors. Perhaps the Master Chief should check out the Pimsleur Method for learning foreign languages. It’s quite effective.

Humorously Tragic Commercial

Finally, I’ll leave you with something that I think will be less effective: HTC’s new marketing campaign. I’ve been saying HTC needs to step up and do something big on the ad front for a long time now, but I’m not sure this is it. The spot includes -Tony Stark- Robert Downey Jr. coming up with zany interpretations for what HTC could stand for, including Humongous Tinfoil Catamaran and Hipster Troll Carwash. Not even Halo music helps this ad to make sense in my eye. The truth is “HTC” stands for “High Tech Computer,” which didn’t make the commercial cut for obvious reasons, but I think the whole thing misses the mark. HTC’s primary strength right now is great design. HTC’s primary weakness is brand awareness. This commercial doesn’t promote the former and does little to address the latter. (If you’ve never heard of HTC then you probably weren’t wondering what it stands for in the first place.)

And that’s all from me. I’m spending the weekend at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, so be sure to check me out on Twitter if you want glamorous shots of glamorous cars. I’ll get back to the regularly scheduled shots of my glamorous dogs next week.

tim.stevens

Freelance journalist and software architect based in Upstate NY. I write for a variety of different places (as you’ll see) -- maybe even for you if you ask nicely.

2 Comments

  1. I think…

    The HTC campaign is a long burn and while at this moment it does not make much sense, as a series of ads it may well work well, time will tell.

    Hold The Cat

  2. I was waiting for The Company Formerly Known as RIM to adopt Android and focus on hardware and backend services for corporations and government for ages. When they decided to stick with QNX and go it on their own after the disaster that was the erroneously-named Playbook, I think a lot of us saw the writing on the wall. I want to say it’s a shame and a loss for BlackBerry fans, but really at this point the company has lost what it was that made it special in the first place so what’s lost now?

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