Cosmic Tech

Virgin Hyperloop takes on its first passengers

It’s been seven years since SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled his concept for a hyperloop, a network of tubes through which passengers could travel between cities at near-supersonic speeds.

Now Virgin Hyperloop has finally given two passengers a ride.

The 1,640-foot (500-meter) test run in the Nevada desert lasted only about 15 seconds, reaching a top speed of merely 107 mph (172 kilometers per hour). Nevertheless, it was a cause for celebration on the part of the first-ever hyperloop passengers — Josh Giegel, Virgin Hyperloop’s co-founder and chief techology officer; and Sara Luchian, the venture’s director of passenger experience.

“When we started in a garage over six years ago, the goal was simple — to transform the way people move,” Giegel said in a news release issued after the Nov. 8 trip down the DevLoop test track. “Today, we took one giant leap toward that ultimate dream, not only for me, but for all of us who are looking towards a moonshot right here on Earth.”

Luchian said it was only natural that Virgin Hyperloop executives would take what was billed as humanity’s first hyperloop trip after conducting 400 test runs without people on board. “What better way to design the future than to actually experience it firsthand?” she asked.

British billionaire Richard Branson, who made the venture previously known as Hyperloop One part of his Virgin Group corporate family three years ago, hailed the debut of the two-seat XP-2 prototype pod.

“With today’s successful test, we have shown that this spirit of innovation will in fact change the way people everywhere live, work, and travel in the years to come,” he said after the run.

The cushy XP-2 vehicle is a scaled-down version of the production vehicle, which is being designed to seat up to 28 passengers.

Pegasus XP-2 made use of electric propulsion and magnetic levitation to zoom smoothly down the DevLoop’s low-pressure test tube. Giegel told The New York Times that the ride didn’t feel “that much different than accelerating in a sports car.”

Back in 2013, Musk laid out a plan for a network of hyperloop tubes that could cut the travel time between San Francisco and Los Angeles to 35 minutes. At first, he left it to others to commercialize the idea. But in 2016, he founded a venture known as the Boring Company to build somewhat less ambitious underground transit networks.

Since then, the Boring Company has pursued plans to build such networks in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor. SpaceX has also sponsored a series of collegiate-level hyperloop pod races.

Several other ventures are trying to commercialize the hyperloop concept, for cargo as well as passenger applications, but Virgin Hyperloop has the highest profile. The company has raised more than $400 million in investment, and last month it announced that it would set up a Hyperloop Certification Center in West Virginia.

Virgin Hyperloop has proposed a variety of projects for locales ranging from Texas, North Carolina and the Upper Midwest in the U.S. to India and the Middle East. The company has said the first networks could win approval in the 2022-2023 time frame. But that timetable has run up against regulatory realities, and some critics question whether the technology will ever be economically viable.

In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a roadmap for moving ahead with hyperloop networks, tunneling technologies and other novel transit concepts. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the roadmap will “help address legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy without hampering innovation.”

There could be big changes ahead in transportation policy: Right now, it looks as if President-elect Joe Biden’s plan for a “second great rail revolution” will focus on conventional high-speed rail. But if hyperloop ventures can grab a bigger share of the spotlight, as Virgin Hyperloop did this weekend, they just might grab a bigger piece of the pie as well.


Hyperloop One revs up funding with billionaire chair

Billionaire Richard Branson is Virgin Hyperloop One’s chairman. (Virgin Hyperloop One Photo)

Virgin Hyperloop One now officially has British billionaire Richard Branson as its chairman, along with $50 million more in funding for its rapid-transit development effort.

The company also reported that its test pod reached a top speed of 240 mph during its Phase 3 round of testing, which finished up last week. The tests took place at Virgin Hyperloop One’s 500-meter (1,640-foot) DevLoop test tunnel in Nevada.

Phase 3 tested the prototype pod’s electric motor, control system and magnetic levitation system, as well as the tunnel’s vacuum system and air lock.

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Virgin invests in (and rebrands) Hyperloop One

Richard Branson
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson dons a hardhat during his visit to Hyperloop One’s test track in Nevada. (Virgin Photo / Greg Rose)

British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has invested in the Hyperloop One rapid-transit venture, which will soon be rebranded as Virgin Hyperloop One, the company announced today.

The arrangement was described as a global strategic partnership rather than an acquisition.

“For more than 20 years, Richard and Virgin have been at the forefront of transportation innovation, and a partnership with them feels like a natural fit,” Shervin Pishevar, co-founder and executive chairman of Hyperloop One, said in a news release. “Virgin is an iconic brand, and having Richard as an ally will help strengthen our mission to spread Hyperloop One throughout the world.”

In a blog posting, Branson said Hyperloop One was “just the latest example” of Virgin’s passion for innovation.

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Hyperloop One highlights 10 transit targets

Hyperloop One
An artist’s concept shows a Hyperloop transit tube heading toward a city skyline. (Hyperloop One Illustration)

A California startup that aims to turn tech pioneer Elon Musk’s Hyperloop rapid-transit concept into reality has chosen 10 winners in a global competition – including proposed routes stretching from Chicago to Pittsburgh, Cheyenne to Denver, Dallas to Houston and Miami to Orlando.

Other winners in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge include teams from Canada and Mexico, Britain and India – but no one from the Pacific Northwest.

Teams proposing a Seattle-to-Portland passenger line and a cargo route centered on Vancouver in British Columbia were among two dozen semifinalists in the yearlong contest that didn’t make the final cut.

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Hyperloop One celebrates full-system test

Hyperloop One pod shell
Workers hoist Hyperloop One’s prototype Pod shell at a Nevada test track. (Hyperloop One Photo)

Hyperloop One showed off the results of its first full-system test of a magnetically levitating rail vehicle in a vacuum environment, and said its next round of testing will target speeds of 250 mph.

The crucial test for Phase 1 of Hyperloop One’s development program took place back on May 12 at its 500-meter-long DevLoop test track in the Nevada desert, but the results were reported just today.

In a news release, Hyperloop One said the test vehicle coasted above the first portion of the track for 5.3 seconds, thanks to magnetic levitation. The car achieved peak acceleration of 2 G’s and Phase 1’s target speed of 70 mph, powered by the company’s proprietary linear electric motor.

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Pacific Hyperloop touts Seattle-Portland link

An artist’s concept shows a Hyperloop pod parked at a transit station. (Hyperloop One Illustration)

A fledgling venture called Pacific Hyperloop is kicking off its effort to win support for a high-speed transit link between Seattle and Portland, using the Hyperloop system envisioned by SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk.

The plan calls for creating a network of tubes capable of zipping passengers from the Jet City to the Rose City in 15 minutes, thanks to pods that travel at the near-supersonic speed of 760 mph.

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Hyperloop One gets a $50 million boost

Hyperloop One terminal
An artist’s conception shows how a Hyperloop One terminal could be built at a Dubai port facility with subsurface transit tubes. (Credit: DP World / Hyperloop One)

Hyperloop One, an L.A.-based venture that wants to commercialize Elon Musk’s rapid-transit concept, says it has received $50 million in a financing round led by Dubai-based port operator DP World Group.

In a news release, Hyperloop One said the latest round brings its total financing to $160 million.

The announcement serves as another signal that cargo transport is likely to be one of the first applications for Hyperloop One’s near-supersonic, tube-running pods. DP World recently signed an agreement with Hyperloop One to look into building a system that would move containers from Dubai’s Port of Jebel Ali to a new inland depot.

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Hyperloop One zooms through speed test

Image: Hyperloop One sled
Hyperloop One’s propulsion test sled zooms down a Nevada desert track. (Credit: Hyperloop One)

The newly renamed Hyperloop One venture sent an electrically propelled sled down a Nevada test track at speeds that went beyond 100 mph in just two seconds, marking the public debut of its rapid-transit propulsion system.

Hundreds of journalists and VIPs watched the open-air propulsion test, which represents a milestone in the effort to commercialize a high-speed transportation system conceived three years ago by Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors.

Theoretically, such a system could transport passengers in levitating pods through elevated tubes at near-supersonic speeds, bridging the distance between, say, San Francisco and Los Angeles in a half-hour.

But turning theory into fact will probably require spending billions of dollars, pioneering scores of technologies and negotiating unprecedented regulatory hurdles. Today’s test was meant to demonstrate first-generation Hyperloop technology, and show that Hyperloop One was serious about building hardware and laying track, albeit for scaled-down testing.

Hyperloop One already has raised more than $100 million for its venture, including$80 million in investments that were announced on May 10.

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Hyperloop One gets an $80 million boost

Image: Hyperloop One test track
Components for a Hyperloop One test track are laid out in North Las Vegas. (Credit: Hyperloop One)

Forget Hyperloop Technologies: Now the company is called Hyperloop One, and it’s backed by $80 million in new investment from heavy hitters including Khosla Ventures, GE Ventures and the French high-speed rail company SNCF.

Today’s unveiling of the new name and new financing, as well as an international array of partners and a tuned-up business plan, is part of a fast-track plan for building high-speed tube transit systems – not only in California, but potentially in Scandinavia and Switzerland as well.

L.A.-based Hyperloop One is due to demonstrate its propulsion system on an open-air test track in North Las Vegas on Wednesday. It’s gearing up for full-scale trials in a 2-mile-long tube by the end of the year. It’s also planning a “Hyperloop One Global Challenge” for folks who want to propose transportation applications for the Hyperloop concept. (Deadline for entries is Sept. 15.)

This week’s revelations pick up the pace in a crowded commercial race, aimed at capitalizing on a rapid-transit concept laid out almost three years ago by Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur behind SpaceX and Tesla Motors.

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