Moving Superfast on Earth

Visions of future travel in science fiction usually do not depict ultra-fast movement on a planet. The exception is teleportation in Star Trek. The Minority Report does show Maglev cars that travel at about 100 mph and can transition to vertical movement up buildings.

Twelve to Eighteen-hour flights around the world are the current speed of global travel. If there are connections into smaller cities or rural areas then two or three-day travel times with connections may be required. It can also take one to three-hours for driving or public transit commutes inside large cities.

This should dramatically change by 2030 with more self-driving cars. Self-driving and networked vehicles should eliminate traffic jams. When nearly all rides are made with self-driving cars, self-driving buses, self-driving trucks and robo-taxis then the speed can be safely increased to 150 mph for major highways. The German Autobahn already has driving speeds of 90-110 mph.

SpaceX has the goal of increasing the safety of reusable rockets to enable less than one-hour flight times between major world cities. This could be in use by 2025 for cargo delivery on earth and 2030 for human passengers. If each SpaceX Earthship moved 1000 people per flight and flew 10 times per day, then each one would transport up to 3.5 million people per year. If the cost per flight was only $500 per person, then demand for international world travel could increase to 3.5 billion trips per year in 2030. This would mean about 1000 SpaceX Starships for international flights would be needed.

If shortening travel times were more valuable than energy efficiency, then ground vehicles could increase to 250 mph or 400-600 mph for high-speed rail or maglev. This would allow traveling across China’s planned 200 million person megacity regions in less than an hour and possibly even 30 minutes.

All travel anywhere on Earth would be under one hour. 30 Minutes for international rocket flight and then 30 minutes within cities or to reach more remote areas.

If vacuum tube tunnels or at least very low-pressure tunnels could be created then travel speeds could increase for ground transportation up to 2000 to 20,000 mph. Having many infrastructure connections at this speed could make travel between major cities on the same land-mass in under 20 minutes.

What might be beyond the ultra-fast car, rocket or super vacuum-maglev for on planet travel?

A world with abundant molecular nanotechnology and room temperature superconductors where each person has over 1000 kilograms of nano-fog and other nanotechnology. It could be possible to generate on-demand personal maglev movement. This could eliminate first mile and last-mile delays and get speeds potentially up to 20,000 mph at nearly all points.

Another technology for fast personal mobility would be superconductor or beamed power exosuits. A lighter and more comfortable flight suit or personal mobility drones for picking people up.

This would mean ten minutes to anywhere inside the USA and 30 minutes to anywhere on the earth.

37 thoughts on “Moving Superfast on Earth”

  1. Thinking further … on “super”fast

    Physics — love her or hate her — has some hard-and-fast math rules that can not be broken, apparently (to the chagrin of a lot of Science Fiction writers) ever.  

    For instance — Force, Speed, Distance, Acceleration, Mass and Energy

    f = ma which can rearrange to 
    a = f/m 

    v = at which thru substitution for ‘a’ is
    v = ft/m

    Ek = ½mv² which thru substitution
    Ek = ½f²t²m/m² and then reduction
    Ek = f²t²/2m

    d = ½at² substituting ‘a’
    d = ft²/2m

    And so forth. To go from ‘here’ to ‘there’ … ‘ordinary mortals’ and especially the risk-averse will handle so many G’s.  2 perhaps. Not 3+ G, for sure.  

    1 G = 9.81 m/s² so
    2 G ≈ 20 m/s²

    The desired speed is 20,000 km/hr (right?)

    v = ( 20,000 km/hr × 1,000 m/km ) ÷ 3600 sec/hr
    v = 5,556 m/s


    v = at
    5,556 m/s = (20 m/s²) t
    t = 278 s  (just under 5 min)

    And the SAME 5 minutes is required at the landing-end, to slow back down. Some ride!  The kinetic energy at-speed is

    Ek = ½at²
    Ek = ½⋅20⋅278² J/kg
    Ek = 773 kJ/kg (¾ stick dynamite (1 MJ/ea) per kg … or 55 sticks per 75 kg person!)

    This is where things get hard-to-rationalize, energy wise. 
    While Musk’s muskovites have landed an empty thruster… 
    What about one that’s still carrying its launch payload?


    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  2. “All travel anywhere on Earth would be under one hour. ”

    Add 20 years for this to happen in the U.S. compared to the rest of the developed world.

  3. I interpret it as “if you have a bunch of nano-stuff everywhere (which would be the case with 1000 kg of it per person), then it’s relatively easy to form the necessary vacuum tubes and pods more or less on demand.” On 2nd thought, the maglev bits may be more challenging, but that depends on the details of the available tech.

    Agreed on telepresence. That doesn’t even require BCIs.

  4. Yeah, I agree that uploading wouldn’t be an instantly universal choice, I just think it’s easier than nanofog that accelerates lumps of thinking meat to 20,000 mph safely on demand (this is fast enough to reach orbit). Even if you work out how to do that, you also have to work out a regulatory regime which prevents the same principles from being used dangerously. I mean that in a very broad way.

    (Although I guess I’m reading Brian’s initial statement in a very narrow way – if by “on demand” he meant “You head down to a giant piece of infrastructure designed to handle these forces” and by “personal maglev movement” he meant “you purchase a ticket for a private cabin which is individually routed” I guess yeah, even early molecular nanotech could handle that).

    In the early days though, using your BCI for telepresence and VR experiences without uploading would also be pretty good and obviate most need to commute around the planet.

  5. It’s not a link, but it does show the term “ET3” and give a very rough idea of what it is. The paragraph right above it gives another clue.

    It was covered here on NBF way back, and I’ve read about it and saw the videos back then.
    I didn’t know their site no longer exists. I expected “ET3” to still work as a search term.

    Btw, a google-fu tip: if your search term doesn’t work, try adding a relevant keyword. “ET3 transportation” (without the quotes) gives decent results, and you could guess the “transportation” keyword from the topic of the article.

    I just found they still have a site in the netherlands, . But I guess their search engine optimization is weak, at least for english search. You’ll need to use google translate for most of the text there (or load it in Chrome), unless you speak dutch.

  6. Thanks for explaining. The second picture in the article is not an active link to a web page, and does not give any other hint (as far as I can tell) as to what ET3 means. How did you learn the meaning? Did you remember it from somewhere else?

  7. Loved the “new son” pun, (if I remember correctly), and the two-headed guy.
    I was thinking of travel within the local cluster of connected O’Neill habs (min 2), not from cluster to cluster in separate orbits. Seems best to compare needed work and routine life travel, which would be far more efficient in the purpose built and inherently dense (at first) habs, compared to Urth. As ELEO fills, the separate orbit distances get to be significantly greater than Urth surface, but things are where you want them, not where they *can* be, as on Urth. Starts to get longer distances in cis lunar, but now you may have more at L5 than on Urth. But of course, if you want, you can live further out, if the trade off is good for you!
    And visit New Paris when it drifts close by.
    Or even Mars.

  8. Specifically regarding stiction, from :

    Analysis of the “stiction” issue dates back to at least 1959 when Feynman [14] suggested running bearings dry. It was subsequently analyzed in more detail by Drexler [15] in 1987 when he examined the symmetry considerations involved in making bearings that exhibit low static friction. The issue was again analyzed in Nanosystems [2], including the more general case of two surfaces sliding over each other. Merkle [16] analyzed bearings in greater depth, again concluding that bearings with very low static friction should be feasible. Experimental evidence that molecules can rotate freely in an appropriate environment is overwhelming, including, for instance, the work of Gimzewski [38] showing that the rotation of individual molecules on a surface can be stopped or started by changes in the local molecular environment, the work of Cumings and Zettl [39] demonstrating near-frictionless sliding of nested carbon nanotubes, and the common observation that molecules can rotate freely around a single bond and that even fairly large molecules often move freely on a surface.

  9. There are certainly some physical limits to what any nanotechnology can do, nano-fog in particular, as well as multiple engineering challenges. But some of the issues you raise have been addressed teoretically by Drexler and others. Friction and sticktion for example. Molecular and inter-atomic forces are well understood. Friction can be made very low with atomically precise parts.

    From what I’ve read, the characteristic frequency at that scale is expected to be on the order of 1 gigahertz, not megahertz. The computation limits have also been considered.

    Communication is a challenge, but the nanites don’t need to communicate with every other nanite. Birds and fish move collectively using minimal “communication” with only neighboring individuals. This has been duplicated in software many years ago. So at a minimum, just direct-neighbor communication would already be useful.

    Heat dissipation is pretty easy IMO. The individual nanites have very small volumes. If made from diamond-like materials (with some chemically-inert coating), their heat conductance could be quite high. They can adopt swarm shapes with very high surface area, and actively pump air through the swarm, if necessary. And the total heat need not be much higher than macroscopic approaches to the same task. Perhaps lower, if the nanotech allows more efficient processes (e.g. reduced friction).

    I think the biggest problem is the power source. An external feed would suffer from distribution difficulties.

  10. It’s in the 2nd picture of the article. ET3 used to be the name of the company that developed and promoted the concept, way before Hyperloop. But looks like their site has gone down since then.

    It’s short for Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies. Youtube has (had?) some good intro videos about it.

  11. ET3 ?? All Google can tell me about that is Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport, which seems not to be what you are referring to. I wish all the commenters here would make a habit of writing out the full phrase the first time you use a self-invented or not very common abbreviation.

  12. Yes, except … that Space is Big, and getting between any two points in decently short time takes a wickedly large amount of power. Power that has few options at present for recovering the invested energy.  Especially if one “rockets” around. Can’t catch all that spent reaction-mass exhaust.  

    Oh, sure. Let us imagine rail-launchers (or any equivalent). With magical precision and never-ever-fail math magic, one might ‘catch’ an incoming speeder on the same launch rail, and decelerate it, recovering the kinetic energy.  

    With vacuum emptied tubes, at least the alignment problem is inherently solved. Thus, the ginormous energy investment ot move a pod is theoretically mostly recoverable.  Nice!

    But that’s on Urth. (Channeling author Gene Wolfe.)
    Not Space.

    Space based living and comportment might employ ‘centripetal spin’ (AKA centrifugal) devices. Hop in a pod, get trundled to the hub, release with µs timing accuracy… and get flung out the ‘spoke’ of a huge wheel at high-high velocity a few seconds later. Accelerations at whatever the pod-and-blob inside can tolerate.  

    And if one could be ‘caught’ by another wheel, well … the kinetic energy comes back. For free. Subject to the centimeter-scale problems of not being an exact match, and the exact millisecond, on the receiving end. 

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  13. To me the “invention of nanofog” was a great Science Fiction idea, but suffers from so many magic-over-physics based prlblems that its very likely to remain IN the fiction side of Science. 

    “Nano” implies “nanometer scale”, from molecular to sub-millimeter.  Perhaps 1 mm at the upper end.  

    Magical motes, if free from having to worry about power, actuators, control, communications, momentum, friction-and-stiction, electrostatics, internal limits of computability, and so on.  

    If all the motes can communicate efficiently (how?); if they collectively have WAY more computing power than a single mote; if their actuators work at megahertz speeds, they might move a few millimeters per second.  

    The nature of the physics problem.  

    And of course, there’s “getting rid of the heat”. 
    Heat cooks meat, we must remember.  

    Take the simplest of all cases.  
    Nanomotes on the soles of your shoes. (remember the song?)

    Their ‘job’ would be simple… comport the land whale above forward, sideways, reverse, etc., without apparent moving parts on the macro scale. 

    However, to move The Ulterior Blob, all the energy-cost of standard physics remains, along with getting rid of the heat of irreducible electromechanical inefficiencies. At least the communications side is easy to solve. A simple mesh covers them all in 2 dimensions. And the power source one could wear in a future-perfect battery pack.  

    Just saying…
    Food for thought…
    GoatGuy ✓

  14. The fastest way to travel is not to travel. Lets us make work as remote as possible. If we can’t then make is easy to move closer to ones work.

  15. I think molecular nanotechnology is possible this century. With a concentrated effort, maybe just 10-20 years from the time such an effort starts. There’s been some good progress with DNA nanotech in recent years, and that could lead to more sophisticated forms even with less concentrated effort. And there are other possible paths.

    Once there is molecular nanotech, nano-fog would be just a matter of engineering. But figuring out a suitable power source will likely be more difficult.

    But yes, if you have nanotech, you can fairly easily make BCIs. That doesn’t mean you’d necessarily upload, however. Uploading holds further challenges beyond just the brain interface, and not everyone would want to upload (or even use a BCI, for that matter). See my other comment for some other possibilities.

  16. With a ton per person, you wouldn’t be carrying it. It be spread out in the environment like an active invisible mist that you walk through. (To answer Jean, for very high speeds you’d still need an evacuated tube. It’d just be a lot easier to form such a tube, and to form the pod that would move through it.)

    But ~10 kg of nano-fog per person can be wearable. If spread over an adult’s full body surface, that would be about 5 mm thick when compacted. In practice, the thickness would vary in different places, and it can spread out to a much larger volume when necessary. Carrying 10 kg that are evenly spread over the body isn’t too difficult, but it could also support its own weight, like an exoskeleton.

    With a suitable power source, such a nanosuit would open up all sorts of interesting capabilities. From on-demand clothes and tools and insta-makeup, through various on-demand gadgets, to survival gear, to even a wearable hospital. It could also form a pretty good minimally-invasive BCI, which would let you control it like an extension of your body. And all sorts of mobility options.

    But as another poster said, ham and eggs. This would take several tech breakthroughs, and maybe a physics breakthrough for the energy source.

  17. Combine the ideas of ET3, Hyperloop, and cable-free elevators (which were covered here a while back), and you can potentially get an integrated, fast, global door-to-door transportation system. An advantage of ET3 over Hyperloop is it uses smaller pods, about the size of a car. That allows smaller, cheaper tubes in which it’s easier to maintain vacuum, and requires less right-of-way. But more importantly for this propsal, it’s easier to move smaller pods vertically like an elevator.

    So these would go from door to ground level similar to the minority report pods (technically more like a cable-free elevator), switch to PRT mode at ground level, then enter evacuated tubes for fast inter-city and international travel. With Boring company tunnels, it could also move quickly inside cities, but then it’d be less available to be hailed above ground like an Uber.

    With some fairly minor modifications, it could also be combined with a launch loop, so you’d also get door-to-LEO (and through appropriate ports, maybe LEO-to-door in the nearest space station).

    I imagine it would require some form of digital passports and automated bomb detection for border control and security. But it’s going to take a lot of international cooperation to build out a global ET3 network anyway, so maybe a digital passport isn’t that much of a stretch.

  18. I’m with you guys, I’m with this up until nano-fog. Probably just because I don’t know enough about what that would mean. Unless it’s something like this, though my mind isn’t making the leap between robots and propulsion.

    Probably not the same thing, though. I do gots me plenty of nano-fog, though. It’s just not… never mind.

  19. 150mph cars… Sustained speed? Over the life of a car? Not gonna happen without some new magical unobtainium tyres.

  20. Lost me at nanofog. Yeah, I get that the future is a big place. We aren’t always looking a mere 100 years in the future. A thousand or a million years, a lot can happen but…

    Honestly, by the time anything like that is physically possible, wouldn’t you just use your super nanites to inflitrate your brain and transition you to upload and live in virtual space? At that point what you perceive as physical space is mostly just an abstraction – a server address. Everything is perceptually instant. It’d be like living in a world of free zero energy teleporters and replicators, but safer.

  21. Transhumanist discourse usually imagines that tech placed around you, as an invisible, yet tangible ‘matrix’ or forcefield allowing you to see through and working as an smart subtract where you are and move through it.

    Albeit how this can be made and allow you to move at 20,000 mph is a matter of pure speculation, if possible at all.

  22. I am trying to imagine a world where everybody is carrying a ton of nano fog and spreading it during rush hour. It is hard, really hard.

  23. In thirty minutes anywhere on Terra has been achieved in 1957. The application was different, the cost did not matter, failure probability was in single percent range, but it was acheived. SpaceX wants to re-achieve it with another application and low cost and high reliability. Nano magic is not involved. Steel, lots of fire and good old engineering. Meanwhile, Rocketlab re-achieved it at low cost, and they realised it has to be reusable, or they will never keep up with their own schedule. That means they will at least consider the same application.
    Realistically though, the need for speed is concentrated in fairly local mobility. A vehicle with 500kph and 2500km range can fly 1000km in 2h, return, and still have emergency reserve. With that range, one can do a day trip anywhere in populated Australia without refuelling or airlines. With all the flight connections, airlines would take a couple of days to get anywhere but largest cities. And such vehicles are coming to market within 10 years, likely at the price of a fancy car. Behold the 1000km reach of a 2500km vehicle.
    As for mobility at 20000mph, what happens if a bird gets in the way? A cloud of pink nanofog and a sweet lawsuit for lawyers. At 500kph that is at least survivable.

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