Orlando may one day get its own "Tomorrowland" — one that has nothing to do with Disney's Magic Kingdom.
The city has been picked as a finalist for an ultra-high-speed transit system known as a hyperloop that would travel between Orlando and Miami in — wait for it — 26 minutes. The ground transportation system was first proposed in 2013 by Elon Musk, cofounder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and founder of space transport company SpaceX. An electric-powered hyperloop would propel passengers seated in pods through what are, in effect, pneumatic tubes at speeds potentially near 700 miles per hour.
Do we really need to get between these cities in under a half hour? That's like asking folks a century ago, happy to travel across the Atlantic for days by ship, if they would fly the same route by airplane in a matter of hours — if such a service were introduced. What's the rush?
Flying from Orlando to Miami takes just over an hour and costs in excess of $100. Via train? Almost six hours.
For Florida — even if Tampa Bay is not a player in the hyperloop — being part of a potentially remarkable leap in innovative transportation is big.
Want to be part of the 21st century? Come to Florida. It's a powerful economic development message — if this comes to be.
There's also potential concern for Tampa Bay. Not to get too far ahead of the curve, but imagine Orlando tourists getting their fill of theme parks and looking for their next experience. How about Miami area beaches or cruise ships – accessible via hyperloop more quickly and more conveniently than traveling west on I-4 to Tampa Bay beaches or ports.
Musk's hyperloop idea is not brand new. But planning a specific corridor between Orlando and Miami is.
Will it really happen? Maybe. Maybe not. This is the same state during the Obama administration that was going to get a then-cutting edge "bullet" train between Orlando and Tampa. That ran into political headwinds and never happened.
Hyperloop may be a different animal in different times.
A private Los Angeles company called Hyperloop One, inspired by Musk's vision, plans to build hyperloop systems not only in Florida but also in Texas, Colorado, Illinois and overseas in locations from Scandinavia to India.
The company is testing the technology this year but would not be ready for cargo runs until at least 2020 and passenger rides until at least 2021. That sounds optimistic to me — I can only imagine the red tape ahead — but even if it's years later it's still a compelling concept.
Hyperloop One, to its credit, has some formidable talent.
"Hyperloop will not only solve transportation and urban development challenges within communities, it will unlock vast economic potential and transform how our cities operate and how we live," said Shervin Pishevar, co-founder and executive chairman of Hyperloop One and a venture capitalist with stakes in Uber and Airbnb.
Back in April, the Orlando-Miami route was one of 11 U.S. semi-finalists in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge selection process. This month it is one of 10 finalists worldwide.
Testing of a hyperloop system by the company is under way in the Nevada desert. A test in May was characterized by Hyperloop executives as a "Kitty Hawk moment" akin to the Wright Brothers achieving sustained (if brief) flight.
There are many, many miles to go before this becomes real. But it could be quite a ride.
Stay sharp, Tampa Bay.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.