Few business leaders have the imagination and drive of Elon Musk (who also has the best Bond-villain name of any billionaire on Earth, incidentally). Instead of riding on the coattails of the fortune he earned through PayPal, Musk has spent the last decade investing the riches he earned through his initial success with PayPal into projects of unprecedented scope and ambition. Many of his projects push the envelope of current technology and science, in some cases creating innovative solutions that, once unveiled, appear to be an inevitable part of the future.
In addition to being one of the richest people on Earth, Elon Musk has proved the critics wrong repeatedly, which is especially impressive considering the risky projects he undertakes. The companies that he's built from scratch since PayPal, such as Tesla and SpaceX, tend to challenge the status quo in major industrial sectors with massive competition, some of which have been established for over a century.
After challenging major automotive and aerospace companies such as Boeing, Ford and Lockheed Martin, Elon Musk appears to have gained an inside track in the race to the future. The forward-looking products and services being developed by Tesla, SpaceX, Hyperloop and even PayPal Galactic look to usher in an era of cleaner, faster mass transportation as well as inexpensive travel to outer space for both business and leisure. The following are the ten most intriguing, fascinating and even terrifying projects initiated by futurist Elon Musk.
10 The Hyperloop
If Elon Musk has his way, public transit would consist of pods that hold around 30 people, travelling through tubes at speeds up to 760 miles per hour, ferrying passengers from distances as far as San Francisco to Los Angeles in just over half-an-hour. The hyperloop experience would be similar to taking off in an airplane, with an initial rush of acceleration followed by floating on a cushion of air, but with far less turbulence.
Current estimates place the cost of such a project at roughly $6 billion, which initially caused Musk to pause at the idea of building a prototype, although he's recently warmed to the idea of investing his own funds in the project.
9 Electric Jet Faster Than Sound
Modern airline travel is responsible for a great deal of pollution, requiring large airports with lengthy runways to launch and receive flights from around the world. During a video chat with a group of entrepreneurs, a discussion about aircraft revealed that Elon Musk is interested in using his experience with Tesla and other technologically-advanced vehicular projects to develop a revolution in jet planes.
The jet he envisions would run on electricity, take off and land vertically and reach speeds greater than sound. In addition to reducing flight times and pollution, airports would need less space to harbor Musk's proposed aircraft.
8 Teslas on Autopilot
Elon Musk is teaming up with Google to completely change the way cars are driven around the world. While Google has taken the approach of referring to the system as a "self-driving car", Elon Musk points to the success of 'autopilot' across various types of commercial aircraft, preferring to call computerized operation of a car by the same name as the systems that govern aircraft.
Instead of the laser-powered sensors of Google's creation, Musk believes that a series of optical sensors would be far more cost effective, with computers figuring out the best course of action according to visual cues rather than a radar-like system.
7 Coast-to-Coast Electric Supercharger Stations
In order to make it possible to conduct the great American road trip of driving from Los Angeles to New York with a Tesla, Elon Musk wants to establish a series of quick charging stations that will make it possible to drive from coast-to-coast without filling up on gasoline.
Each station will cost approximately $300,000 and will be capable of recharging a Tesla in about 30 minutes. This network will include installations in Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Oregon and even in Vancouver, Canada. The result will be up to 100 stations that will provide free electricity for Tesla owners.
6 Robot Fuel Station Attendants
In his quest to make Tesla's electric vehicles the new standard for public automotive concerns, Elon Musk has commissioned the design and construction of robotic fuel attendants.
These robots will be responsible for swapping the Tesla's lithium-ion batteries. The electric cells, weighing about 1,000 pounds each, are swapped quicker than a combustion engine can be filled with gasoline, making it easier and more convenient, a key selling feature for consumers. Consumers would borrow a battery pack at the cost of a typical tank of gas and simply swap their empty cells at charging stations. Each station will cost approximately $500,000 to construct, with the first set constructed in California.
5 Reusable Space Rockets
The Grasshopper is the pet project of Elon Musk's SpaceX organization, which is dedicated to the development of the most advanced jets and rockets in the world.
This rocket is named after the insect due to the prototype's mission to repeatedly hop to heights as high as 2,441 feet before safely landing in an upright position. Typically, rockets tend to leave parts behind during exit and reentry, with the rocket landing in the middle of an ocean. The fact that the Grasshopper is able to exit and reenter without losing parts and ready to fly under short notice could lead to extensive cost savings while increasing the ease with which we exit the bonds of Earth.
4 Spaceport for Intergalactic Commerce
Considering his success in heading the various contracts and projects of SpaceX, it's little surprise that Elon Musk has decided to search for an ideal site to create the first ever commercial spaceport.
This would allow private companies to utilize rockets and jets to conduct business in space, perhaps even rocketing goods and people around the Earth. The location selected by Musk and his team is currently Brownsville, Texas, where ground has already been broken on the project. This would allow SpaceX to have its own launch facility for the Dragon rocket and other commercial spacecraft instead of having to use the bases at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg.
3 Galactic Currency
One of Elon Musk's original source of fortune, Paypal, is teaming up with the group at Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in the development of PayPal Galactic - an intergalactic currency that can be used anywhere in the universe.
This system would officially extend the economics of Earth into the solar system, allowing companies and tourists to have a payment option that would link with their account back home. Assuming SETI discovers aliens that have a strong concept of human economics, PayPal Galactic will presumably provide a method for non-human visitors to pay too much for cheesy souvenirs and terrible tourist food through their accounts on their home planet...
2 Internet Service in Space
PayPal Galactic will probably require a reliable way to hook up to the internet from Mars or any other of your favourite space destinations, so Elon Musk has gone ahead and started to create the internet of outer space.
He's done so by launching about 700 small satellites into close orbit in such a way that all of the planet will be connected while providing speeds greater than current satellite technology. As well as providing a communication network capable of delivering the internet to some of the poorest areas on Earth, these satellites will eventually provide the backbone that connects the internet to other planets and moons.
1 A Colony on Mars
Elon Musk wants to die on Mars. In order to do so, it appears he's planning on eventually starting a colony on the red planet. This settlement would hold up to 80,000 humans, beginning with a group of ten pioneers who would begin to set up the infrastructure before more people would join.
At present, Musk envisions a gigantic, reusable rocket fueled by a mix of methane and oxygen which would travel the same distance that light travels in just over three minutes - a considerable task considering that the best spacecraft that humanity has to offer takes a minimum of 39 days under the best possible circumstances.
Interestingly, many of the other futuristic technologies developed by Elon Musk will likely become indispensable on a space colony of any kind; this, it seems, is his ultimate goal.