In an ambitious promotional video, Virgin Hyperloop explains how it envisions its high-speed transportation system working in the future. Pods that will hold up to 28 passengers will travel at speeds surpassing 670 miles per hour — three times faster than high-speed rail and 10 times faster than traditional rail — using proprietary magnetic levitation and propulsion that guides the vehicles on the track. The pods will travel in convoys down the tube so they can head to different destinations. The company has made some bold claims, betting its system will be more sustainable, cost-effective and convenient than presently available modes of transportation, leaving many skeptical about whether the plans will ever come to fruition as promised.
Here are some insights from the interview with Virgin Hyperloop CEO and co-founder Josh Giegel, for Changing America:
Tell me about the technology. What makes it different from a maglev — magnetic levitation — train in terms of infrastructure and potential?
What we started working on over the last few years is this idea of “smart pod, dumb tube.” Instead of having switches that move like a train, we just have things that act like an off-ramp so if the pod [the vehicle passengers ride in] wants to get off and take people to a certain city it just pulls off by turning on an electromagnet. So you can now have a really high-capacity system without all these safety risks associated with track-switching. You put the pod inside of a tube, you take most of the air out, you have a very low energy consumption, you actually make it inherently safer, you make it weatherproof, and you can move as many people as a 30-lane highway in the space of a tube going each direction. It’s all from this foundational premise that we created: new propulsion, new levitation, new batteries, new ways of working all these things together to make a “smart pod, dumb tube,” so a pod one hundred years from now could ride in the same tube we build today.
What’s the timeline like? When can I buy a ticket to ride?
What we set out to do last year was show the technology could be made safe. That culminated in myself and one of my colleagues Sara riding on a prototype in November. I think that allayed a lot of concerns about whether we can make it safe. The next level is getting approved by an independent body and commercializing the technology. We’re in the process of building our commercial technology now, which are these 25 to 30 passenger pods.
We’ll begin to look at pilot projects that will move cargo first, so think of shorter projects starting around the 2024 through 2026 timeframe. At the same time we’ll be getting independent safety approval needed to get a product certified for passengers. And then ultimately from there go into building the projects out from 2026 through the rest of the decade. So you’ll be looking at the decade of hyperloop, starting with Sara and I riding on it and ending with, I’m hoping, billions of passengers riding, but I will settle for tens, if not hundreds, of millions of passengers in the U.S. and around the world.
Source (The Hill, “Will the 2020s be the decade of hyperloop?”, 01.09.2021)