Before Hyperloop: 6 Futuristic Transit Ideas

Hyperloop Sketches
Elon Musk, of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, revealed his futuristic "Hyperloop" transportation system on August 12, 2013. (Image credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX)

The Hyperloop transportation scheme proposed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has created quite a stir in transportation circles. But Musk is hardly the first to turn heads with a transport idea that's either brilliant or wacky.

Ever since man first dreamed of flight, humans have been trying to come up with a better way of getting from point A to point B.

While some of the following efforts are more creative than practical, all of them highlight the power of the human imagination to lift our spirits — even if they don't always keep them aloft. [Photos of Super-Fast Hyperloop Travel Concept]

1. The flying car

A few years ago, Terrafugia developed the Transition, a $279,000, street-legal vehicle that converts from auto mode to airplane mode in less than a minute. It's even small enough to fit into the average American garage. But why stop there? Terrafugia has now announced the TF-X, a four-seat, plug-in hybrid electric flying car with fly-by-wire vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities. It's still in development, however, and probably will be for at least eight years. [What on Earth Is a Hyperloop?]

2. The Hovercraft golf cart

Your leisurely weekend golf game is about to get a lot faster: In July, the Windy Knoll Golf Course in Springfield, Ohio, debuted its hovercraft golf cart. The $25,000 vehicle floats above land, water or sand traps. But operating one isn't for every duffer: "You’ve got to have some technique and skill," Chris Fitzgerald, president of Neoteric Hovercraft, which has been developing hovercrafts for clients like the U.S. military, told Yahoo News. "It's not a device that's going to replace the golf cart. It's not something everyone can just get in and fly."

3. The space elevator

When Frank Sinatra crooned, "fly me to the moon," he probably thought that was the easiest way to get there. But why fly when you can take a space elevator? LiftPort Group, a company headed by Michael Laine (a former NASA researcher), says it can build a space elevator on the moon using existing technology, including ultrastrong carbon nanotube composite ribbon stretching about 62,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) from Earth into space. And there may even be a space-elevator race going on: Obayashi Corp. of Japan has a goal of building a space elevator by 2050.

4. The jetpack

Perhaps no other transport technology has elicited more demand than jetpacks, the strap-on devices that promise to someday propel individuals through the air (they've even inspired an indie-rock band named We Were Promised Jetpacks). And jetpacks do exist: New Zealand-based Martin Aircraft Company has created a large, noisy but functioning jetpack that's not quite ready for prime time. "While there are a number of barriers to this presently," according to the company's website, "it is not inconceivable that at some stage in the future commuting via jetpack may become a reality."

5. The pneumatic subway

In 1869, just a few years after the end of the Civil War, Alfred Beach began construction of a pneumatic subway line beneath New York City. In Beach's prototype, one car traveled a single block under Broadway; in its first year of operation, about 400,000 passengers paid a quarter to ride one way and back. The line was powered by a 48-ton fan, which pushed the car one direction; when the car reached the end of the line, the fan was reversed and the car was pulled back the other direction. A similar pneumatic railway operated beneath London's Crystal Palace Park in the 1860s.

6. The Helios aircraft

Depending on your point of view, there may be no lovelier or stranger-looking aircraft than the Helios, a solar-powered prototype that somewhat resembled a giant flying smile. Developed by NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) project and built by engineering firm AeroVironment, the Helios was designed to operate at high altitudes for long-duration flight. But as so often happens with experimental aircraft, the Helios met with a catastrophic end: In June 2003, after hitting some turbulence, the Helios broke apart and crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

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Marc Lallanilla
Live Science Contributor
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at and a producer with His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.