While the credit for penning the 2013 hyperloop white paper that captured the public imagination goes to Elon Musk, credit for developing the first full scale test track and large-scale feasibility studies in the U.S. goes to Virgin Hyperloop One. In the above video exclusive to Inverse, CTO and co-founder Josh Giegel says consumers will be able to ride working hyperloops within the next few years.
“We’re talking mid 2020s,” he says, talking about when hyperloop concepts like Virgin One’s Devloop will be passenger-ready. “We’re talking about years, and we’re not talking about decades.”
Since it launched in 2014 as Hyperloop One — the company re-named as Virgin Hyperloop One in 2017 — it’s emerged as one of the likeliest front-runners in the race to develop a fully operational hyperloop, which, as you’ve probably heard, promise to combine the benefits of ground travel with plane-like speeds (and save money, to boot). In addition to the four feasibility studies in the U.S., the company has plans to break ground on what it says will be the first operational hyperloop in India, connecting Mumbai with the inland city of Pune. If successful, the travel time between the two cities will be reduced from 2.5-3 hours to under 30 minutes.
Article continues below
Who Will Be the First to Ride a Working Hyperloop?
Virgin Hyperloop One differs from the Loop being developed by Musk’s The Boring Company in a few key respects. It’s a little farther along, with the company having launched two years earlier than The Boring Company (Musk’s original paper was an open-source call-to-action for other projects). Devloop, its test tunnel in Las Vegas was the first operational tunnel and completed in only five months of construction in 2017 and runs about 500 meters, or 1,640 feet.
It also takes a slightly different direction than what Musk first outlined in his white paper. Musk’s vision called for using air bearings — almost like air-like cushions — to make the hyperloop pods levitate atop the tracks. In the video Giegel explains that while testing air bearings, they identified two key problems that made them unworkable.
“In the white paper they talked about air bearings, we tested them, they have a very large energy consumption, and addition they ride very, very close to the surface,” he said. “We built our own magnetic levitation system.”
Magnetic levitation isn’t all that uncommon in the rail industry, Japanese urban planners first began experimenting with concepts in the late 1960s. But these concepts haven’t always taken off because they’re incredibly costly to build and maintain. The U.S. Federal Railroad administration estimates that laying mag-lev tracks would cost close to $100 million a mile, The Guardian reports. Giegel says, however, that the new system Virgin Hyperloop One has developed for installing mag-lev tracks is significantly cheaper, more energy efficient, and can enable much higher speeds.