Longmont co. paves way for space travel on Earth

LONGMONT - The future of high speed transportation, in a capsule, could be right here in Colorado.

A few weeks ago 9NEWS told you about the Hyperloop, bus-sized tube that may someday whisk passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in half an hour. The concept was unveiled earlier this month by Elon Musk, the man behind the Tesla electric car, Space X and PayPal.

Musk is a visionary entrepreneur who garnered the attention of the world with his revolutionary inventions and ideas. Some see him as the modern day Henry Ford.

One name you may not have heard of, but will hear more of in the future, is Daryl Oster. Oster lives in Longmont, Colo. and has plans to build something even better than the Hyperloop. He founded ET3 (Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies), a company with the goal of bringing space travel down to Earth by building car-sized vehicles in tubes.

"These car sized vehicles when they enter through this air lock they can enter into these tubes without letting any air in," Oster explained as he pointed to an animated demonstration on a laptop set up in a modest room just outside his Longmont home. "It's like space travel conditions in those tubes."

Oster demonstrated how most of the air is removed from the tube's chamber with a vacuum pump.

"Then two gate valves open here and the capsule enters the evacuated environment," he explained. "Those 2 gate valves close [and] this chamber can accept the inbound capsule now because it's evacuated."

Thus the company name: Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies (ET3).

"The capsule then accelerates up to speed and merges into the flow of traffic, just like a car merging onto a freeway," Oster said. "It can be routed anywhere in the network like a package of information routed through the internet."

He showed off a mock-up of the capsule, which was placed right outside his house for the 9NEWS interview.

The long seat, covered in a soft green fabric, looked more like a love seat than a public transportation one. The back of it sloped back into a semi-reclined position. According to Oster, the seat holds two "football player sized people" comfortably.

Theoretically, when the prototype is built, Oster envisions each capsule having two long seats, possibly facing each other. So four people could sit in one capsule. Although, until the prototype is built, changes are possible, until the ideal design is finalized.

Oster says the mock-up will be expanded into a three mile demonstration to showcase all the elements to implement ET3 globally.

it will take expanding this mock up to a three mile demonstration to showcase all the elements to implement ET3 globally.

"It takes about a mile for the vehicles to reach about 350 miles an hour [or] 375 miles an hour," Oster said. "And then the vehicles coast for a mile. And then it takes a mile to slow back down. So we can showcase all of the elements necessary to network ET3 in that three mile demo. If we build 3 miles, we can build 30,000 miles."

He says off-the-shelf technologies are already used in volume serial production. Take roller coasters, for example.

"This same type of technology is used for ET3 to accelerate the capsules up to speed using magnetic fields," Oster stated. "Once the capsules get up to speed they merge into the flow of traffic, just like a car merging onto a freeway and then there's no additional energy input. The vehicle coasts for the entire trip using no additional energy. When it arrives at the destination about 90 percent of that acceleration energy can be recovered when the vehicle slows back down."

Oster plans to break ground on the prototype by the end of 2013, probably in Las Vegas.

"We would of course like to do it in Colorado," Oster explained. "But we believe that the best place to do this is in Las Vegas. Las Vegas gets 42 million visitors from all over the world. It could function as the ET3 experience where people would pay $20 to experience traveling at maglev record speed of 375 miles an hour. Currently the record is about 362 miles an hour."

He estimates it will take about a year to build it.

"Then we have a year for contingency and testing," Oster said.

The entrepreneur expects it will take an additional year, at least, to make sure everything is functioning properly and safely.

"It'll take about two years before we're in revenue service," he confidently stated.

Oster believes a worldwide system could displace about 90 percent of global transportation in as few as twenty years.

Oster quickly pointed out some of the reasons ET3 could be built for less money than the high speed rail planned for California.

"Each one of these locomotives [high speed rail] weighs 100 tons," Oster stated. "Each ET3 capsule, fully loaded, with people, only weighs 1,200 pounds. "You can see very quickly why it takes 35 times more concrete and steel to build this [high speed rail] infrastructure, compared to building this [ET3] infrastructure. It also takes a lot more labor. So ET3 can be built for a tenth of the cost of high speed rail and still leave plenty of profit potential for local companies like Colorado Foundation."

Jeff Phillips is the owner of Colorado Foundation Systems, a Loveland company Oster has chosen to build the foundation beams for ET3.

Phillips demonstrated how his steel helical piers could be quickly drilled into the ground. He said a 2 and 7/8 diameter pier could hold 20 tons.

"Once it's in the ground and it's got the surrounding dirt next to it, it can [hold] up to 40 tons. You can put any kind of buildings on them. They've used them for oil rigs, solar panels, houses [and] different things like that."

Phillips said he never expected his product would be used for this type of undertaking.

"This is just an unbelievable opportunity. I can't thank Daryl enough for letting us be a part of this," Phillips said.

"These foundations can be put down very quickly," Oster said.

Oster firmly believes automated ET3 lines could be built right along highway medians.

For those who don't believe automated transportation is the best way to go, Oster offers this explanation:

"Could you imagine [if] all of our cell phone conversations and internet traffic [depended on] human operators, like they had the switchboard operators from a hundred years ago? How many dropped calls would there be? There wouldn't be enough people in the world to man those switch boards," Oster said. "Automation is so much more reliable, so much faster, so much cheaper than human control. Transportation has yet to benefit from that."

The automation of transportation is the light he sees at the end of the tunnel.

"It can invigorate the entire global economy and get us off of foreign oil," Oster smiled. "ET3 can accomplish 50 times more transportation per kilowatt hour of electrical energy compared to the most efficient electric train or electric car."

He says building ET3 lines shouldn't take as long as it took for cars to replace horses and buggies.

"It's not like it was in Henry Ford's day when they had to aggregate what would now be billions of dollars to build a whole series of factories," Oster said. "They had to build a factory to process ore into iron. They had to build another factory to process the iron into steel. They had to build a factory to build engines. They had to build a factory to build transmissions, bearings, gears [and] even a glass factory to make the windshields and stuff. It's amazing that it ever took place."

He says the "open consortium model" ET3 has adopted allows the use of parallel processes and can drive a paradigm shift in our mode of transportation.

"We're in over 20 counties [with] lmost 290 licensees," Oster said. "Most of those licensees are individual experts, engineers and scientists. But there are also several companies and a few institutions."

Oster also believes governments can have a role in bringing this all to fruition.

"Hopefully we're getting close to attracting governments to participate in this to leverage the considerable investments that they've already have in highways that can be used for ET3," he said. "We could pay government 5 percent of the revenue generated through this system instead of the government paying to do this. So we could be tax producers instead of tax absorbers."

As for Musk, Oster says he does not want to be the lead investor in this intergalactic mode of transportation on Earth.

"But when we get ready to build that first three miles, he [Musk] wants to invest in it," Oster said.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

Published Aug. 27, 2013


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