Cosmic Tech

Virgin Hyperloop updates its vision for pod odysseys

Virgin Hyperloop’s latest concept for pod trips through a tube suggests that riders will never get a window seat — and that passersby along the route will never see the pods whizzing by.

The venture’s vision for hyperloop travel is laid out, from start to finish, in a video animation released this week.

Virgin Hyperloop’s head of passenger experience, Sara Luchian, told Architectural Digest that the design of the pods is meant to strike a balance between convenience and coolness.

“There’s no question that some people will ride for the novelty, but we have to assume that people will ride more than once,” she said. “And in that case, you don’t want bells and whistles every day.”

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.


German team wins Hyperloop race (again)

TUM Hyperloop team
The TUM Hyperloop team shows off its pod racer. (TUM via Facebook)

The name may have changed, but the result is the same: For the fourth time in a row, a German team registered the top speed in SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Hyperloop pod race for college-level engineers.

The TUM Hyperloop team from the Technical University of Munich — formerly known as WARR Hyperloop — sent its sleek pod racer through a specially built, mile-long test track next to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., at a top speed of 288 mph (463 kilometers per hour).

There was some drama at the end of the run, when the pod experienced what Teslarati photographer Tom Cross called a “rapid unplanned disassembly” — but the judges nevertheless gave the nod to the German team.

As WARR Hyperloop, the same team had the top speed during the three previous runnings of the Hyperloop competition.

Today’s runners-up were Swissloop (160 mph) and EPFLoop (148 mph) from Switzerland, plus Delft Hyperloop from the Netherlands. The University of Washington had a team in the competition but didn’t make it to the Final Four.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Washington Hyperloop slims down its pod racer

Washington Hyperloop team
Washington Hyperloop team members show off their Husky spirit at an on-campus unveiling of this year’s pod racer. Veteran team member Mitchell Frimodt peeks out from within the pod’s carbon composite shell, while the guts of the racer are on display on a table at left. (Margo Cavis Photo)

Could this year be the year for Washington Hyperloop? For the fourth time, the students on University of Washington’s pod-racing team are taking aim at the top prize in tech titan Elon Musk’s competition, and this time they’ve got their racer down to fighting weight.

This year’s purple pod racer, which looks like a cross between a bobsled and a miniaturized bullet train, was unveiled May 10 at UW’s Husky Union Building.

“Our pod this year is about 60 percent of the weight of last year’s pod, with the same propulsion specs,” engineering senior Mitchell Frimodt, one of the veterans on the Hyperloop team, told GeekWire. “That’s our performance boost.”

Propulsive oomph per pound is a key factor in what’s become an annual tradition that plays out at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. This year, Washington Hyperloop and a dozen other collegiate teams are due to compete on July 21. Competitors will show off the racers they’ve built, and the best of the pack will face off in time trials conducted in a mile-long tube that’s been built just across the street from SpaceX’s rocket factory.

The fastest team wins. And in the previous three competitions, the fastest team has been WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. This year, Munich’s student engineers are racing under a different team name — TUM Hyperloop — but they’re expected to be every bit as formidable.

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WARR wins Elon Musk’s Hyperloop III pod races

Elon Musk and Mitchell Frimodt
SpaceX/Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Washington Hyperloop team member Mitchell Frimodt check out the UW team’s racing pod at the Hyperloop competition. (Washington Hyperloop via Twitter)

WARR’s Hyperloop pod registered a world-record top speed of 290 mph in its final run through the mile-long enclosed test track at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

That’s higher than the top speed that WARR reached during last August’s Hyperloop contest (201 mph), as well as the speed reported for Virgin Hyperloop One’s test pod last December (240 mph). WARR also posted the top speed in the first round of Hyperloop pod races, conducted in January 2017.

“Very impressive,” Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, told the WARR team after today’s record-breaking run.

Dutch-based Delft Hyperloop was the runner-up in the finals with a top speed of 88 mph, and Switzerland’s EPFLoop team was No. 3 with 53 mph.

Although Washington Hyperloop didn’t make it to the three-team finals, the UW team’s leaders said they had an “amazing competition experience” over the past week.

“We finished in the final four, and #1 in the U.S.,” they said in a text message exchange with GeekWire. “After a week of insanely hard work, we powered through the testing stages and managed to get some open-air runs in the tube.”

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Washington Hyperloop unveils its next pod racer

Hyperloop pod racer
Courtney Klein, Washington Hyperloop team member Sev Sandomirsky and Marc Lemire take a look at the pod racer during its unveiling at the University of Washington. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

The Washington Hyperloop team is counting on the third time being the charm.

But it’s not just a question of superstitious sayings: For SpaceX’s third university Hyperloop competition, the three dozen student engineers and entrepreneurs on the University of Washington’s pod-racing team have reworked the design for their vehicle from the ground up.

“Everything on this pod has been redesigned, manufactured,” said team co-leader Nicole Lambert, a junior who’s majoring in mechanical engineering. “It’s a completely new pod from the last two years.”

The pod racer had its formal unveiling at UW on June 1. It’ll be put to the ultimate test next month,  when SpaceX hosts a series of practice runs and races inside a mile-long enclosed test track next to the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

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B.C. kicks in $300,000 for high-speed transit study

Horgan and Inslee
British Columbia Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talk about U.S.-Canada links. (GovInslee via Twitter)

British Columbia will contribute $300,000 toward a study that will look into the business case for an ultra-high-speed transit system connecting Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.


Elon Musk shifts the focus of his tunnel vision

Electric-powered bus
An animation shows an electric-powered pod traveling through a transit tunnel at 124 mph. (Elon Musk via Twitter)

Tesla cars riding electric-powered tracks? Forget about it, at least for now. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and founder of The Boring Company, says pedestrians and cyclists will be the first users of his underground transit tunnels and Hyperloop tubes.

In a series of tweets on March 9, Musk said “all tunnels and Hyperloop will prioritize pedestrians and cyclists over cars.”

“Will still transport cars, but only after personalized mass transit needs are met,” he explained. “It’s a matter of courtesy and fairness. If someone can’t afford a car, they should go first.”

Which means Tesla might well get into the mini-bus business, adding a new electric-powered vehicle to its line of sedans, sports cars and trucks.

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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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Elon Musk will bid to build Chicago transit ‘loop’

Elon Musk’s original Hyperloop concept called for passengers to travel through pneumatic tubes in pods. (Tesla / SpaceX Illustration)

A loop to the Loop? It could happen: Billionaire Elon Musk says he’s willing to build an express transit system that links downtown Chicago with O’Hare International Airport.

Musk’s expression of interest came in response to Chicago’s “request for qualifications” relating to the system — which would be designed to cut travel times to 20 minutes or less, for a fare that costs less than a taxi or ride-hailing service. The Chicago Tribune said the fare could be in the range of $25 or more.

In a tweet, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the express route would “give Chicagoans and visitors to our great city more options, faster travel time, and build on Chicago’s competitive advantage as a global hub of tourism, transportation and trade.”

No public funding would be provided. Instead, the concessionaire would have to finance the project and earn the money back from fares, advertising revenue and other sources.

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