Now that he has finished selling off most of his various airline investments, Sir Richard Branson is burnishing his reputation as a transportation maverick by betting on hyperloop travel as the next big thing.
Branson said his Virgin Group has made an investment in fast-travel startup Hyperloop One. He didn’t say how much he invested, but it was enough to secure a change in the Los Angeles-based company’s name to Virgin Hyperloop One.
What’s a hyperloop? It’s a transportation system that sends passenger (or cargo) pods through a low-pressure tube, using magnetic levitation to accelerate the pods to airline-like speeds. Virgin already has a test track outside of Las Vegas, and it estimates its pods will eventually zip along at speeds of up to 670 mph, or two to three times faster than existing high-speed or magnetic levitation trains.
Virgin’s company is not to be confused with a competing technology effort launched by futurist Elon Musk, the developer of Tesla electric cars and SpaceX rocket launching systems (similar to Branson’s Virgin Galactic company). Musk recently launched a venture called The Boring Company to dig low-cost tunnels that could reduce traffic congestion in urban areas. Such tunnels “would also make Hyperloop adoption viable and enable rapid transit across densely populated regions, enabling travel from New York to Washington DC in less than 30 minutes,” The Boring Company says on its website.
Branson concedes on the Virgin Group website that this technology is still “in the early stages of the commercialization phase,” but noted that the company is “working on exciting projects in the Middle East, Europe, India, Canada and the U.S.” He seems to have his eye on the U.K., predicting that the technology could mean a 50-minute trip from London to Edinburgh.
Virgin Hyperloop One recently held a competition to determine the best places to build its first commercial tracks, and narrowed down the entries to 10 finalists. The 10 included U.S. routes linking Miami-Orlando; a Colorado system from Cheyenne, Wyo, to Pueblo, Co. via Denver with a side track from Denver to Vail; a Dallas-Laredo-Houston route; and Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh. Finalist routes outside the U.S. include Bengaluru-Chennai and Mumbai-Chennai in India; Toronto-Montreal in Canada; Glasgow-Liverpool and Edinburgh-London in the U.K.; and Mexico City-Guadalajara in Mexico.
Hyperloop One says its goal is to have “operational systems by 2021.”
What will the Hyperloop One experience be like for passengers? “About the same as riding in an elevator or a passenger plane,” the company says. “Although Hyperloop will be fast, the systems we are building will accelerate with the same tolerable G forces as that of taking off in a Boeing 747. With Hyperloop you will be accelerating and decelerating gradually and, depending on the route, we will incorporate banking into our designs to eliminate G forces even more. And there’s no turbulence.”
How likely do you think travel by hyperloop will be in our lifetime? What do you think of Virgin’s involvement? Please leave your comments below.
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