Long white metal tubes sitting at the base of mountains in the desert just north of Las Vegas promise to one day revolutionize the mass transportation market.
Virgin Hyperloop is one of the players in this industry. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is developing the technology which will see passenger pods hurtling at speeds of up to 750 miles an hour (1,200 kph) through vacuum tunnels using magnetic levitation.
“It will feel like an aircraft at take-off and once you’re at speed,” said co-founder and Chief Executive Josh Giegel. “You won’t even have turbulence because our system is basically completely able to react to all that turbulence. Think noise-canceling but bump-canceling, if you will.”
“This pod was really the embodiment of ‘How do we take something that’s an idea and make it into something that’s a reality for us to sit in?’ added Giegel.
The pods can seat 28 passengers and could be customized for long and short distances; it can also be used to transport freight.
While the development is still in early stages, Giegel expects commercial operations to begin by early 2027. It could revolutionize mass transit systems just like cars, trains and planes did, said Giegel.
In the early 1900s, rocket scientist Robert Goddard came up with the “vactrain” idea; France tried to develop the Aerotrain in the 1960s and 1970s, but lack of funding killed the project.
Elon Musk reignited interest in this system in 2013 by setting out how a modern system would work. Giegel, who worked at Musk’s SpaceX at the time, said technology is now catching up.
Earlier, the required power electronics, batteries, and some sensors were not ready yet, said Giegel while adding, “We’re at like the very bleeding edge of what a high-speed autonomous battery-powered vehicle is.”
Incidentally, Virgin Hyperloop is looking to first deploy this high tech mass transit system in India, where the transport system is overloaded; it will also deploy it in Saudi Arabia, which lacks an infrastructure.
“It starts off with two people riding a Hyperloop. It ends with hundreds of millions of people riding on a Hyperloop and that’s what the 2020s, the roaring 20s will be,” said Giegel.