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Inside Virgin’s hyperloop concept

Battery powered pods glide through tubes at 670mph in a video released by Virgin Hyperloop showcasing the “next generation” of transport innovation.

Running in a near vacuum, hyperloop pods promise high speeds, low power consumption and zero direct emissions, the video claims. The pods’ engines will contain arrays of electromagnets that lift and guide them within the track.

Pods are designed to run as convoys without physical connections, which would potentially support on-demand service where different parts of the convoy split off to reach individual destinations.

The video said: “These next generation innovations not only enable ultra-fast speed but provide on-demand, direct-to-destination service, carrying tens of thousands of passengers per hour per direction at aeroplane speeds with zero direct emissions.”

What progress has hyperloop made?

The hyperloop concept was first proposed nine years ago by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, but others, including Virgin Hyperloop, are attempting to turn that concept into a reality.

After hundreds of unmanned tests, Virgin Hyperloop carried out its first test with passengers in November 2020, reaching speeds of just 100mph. The company said the length of the track – 500m – was a limiting factor.

On Musk’s part, hyperloop has appeared to take a backseat. His SpaceX company used to run an annual competition to support the development of functional hyperloop prototypes on a one mile track, the last of which took place in 2019.

A competition in 2020 – which Musk, in 2019, said would include a 10km track – did not go ahead and there have been no details about future competitions (the hyperloop page on SpaceX’s website disappeared sometime in May 2020).

Boost from the US

The $1.2tn infrastructure bill that the US Senate passed in August made hyperloop technology eligible for federal funding – something Virgin Hyperloop and competitor HyperloopTT both applauded.

Josh Giegel, CEO and co-founder of Virgin Hyperloop, said: “Hyperloop’s inclusion shows that we’re on the precipice of a new era that will change the way we think about mobility in this country.

“I hope the House of Representatives will expeditiously pass this legislation so that these additional avenues for investment in hyperloop’s successful deployment in the US can become law.”

Andrés de León, CEO of HyperloopTT, said: “The passing of this legislation is a step in the right direction, but the work to advance American infrastructure systems does not stop here.

“Now more than ever, HyperloopTT is committed to exemplifying the long-term benefits of investing in innovative technologies for the future. While a major portion of the increased investment will be spent repairing and maintaining current infrastructure systems, the country’s long-term future relies on the development of sustainable solutions becoming the backbone of transportation infrastructure.”

In the EU, hyperloop was included in the bloc’s mobility strategy in December 2020, with proponents hoping that the technology – though still in its infancy – will become a low-carbon alternative to flying.

Earlier this year, PlaceTech spoke to Przemysław Pączek, then-CEO (now chief product officer) of Nevomo about his predictions about the future of hyperloop. If those predictions come true, we could expect to take our first hyperloop journeys within the next decade.

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