Elon Musk announced the Hyperloop to great excitement yesterday, presenting it specifically as a challenge to California's proposed HSR. I don't really have much to say about Hyperloop or its merits, but I have another proposal which solves the same fundamental problem as those two systems in a way that is far cheaper and can be finished by the end of the year: build state-of-the-art telepresence centers for the state of California.
To understand why telepresence is a competitor to actual physical transport, we must realize that cars and planes will continue to be a huge source of traffic between LA and SF even in optimistic HSR/Hyperloop scenarios. If our real job is to build a system that reduces the demand for dirty cars and planes, then options which discourage travel altogether will have the same effect as a method of transporting people efficiently. I propose that telepresence can be an effective discouragement for unnecessary transportation.
Building upon California's dominance in information technologies, companies like cisco could accomplish amazing feats of realism with conference rooms and convention centers built around modern telepresence systems. High-def cameras and screens, great audio, and even added benefits like 3D or haptic interfaces could significantly improve communication between urban centers. Businesses in the cities where these centers are built would immediately see gains in productivity without having to travel more than a few miles. In off-business hours, these same centers could be reused for families to reconnect. The business-class and private individual alike would benefit, while utilizing these services day and night, 7 days a week.
Are we really trying to solve California's problems, or are we more interested in feeling futuristic?