A major milestone was made Sunday on the road to a potential future where long distances can be covered quickly and efficiently via a hyperloop transport system.
Virgin Hyperloop (previously Hyperloop One) became the first company in the hyperloop race to conduct a test with passengers. The test took place on a development track near Las Vegas that spans just over 1,600 feet, with the run lasting a mere 15 seconds and topping out at 107 mph—well short of the company's goal of 670 mph for the commercial version.
Virgin Hyperloop used an experimental hyperloop pod designed to seat two passengers, with Josh Giegel, chief technology officer and co-founder of Virgin Hyperloop, and Sara Luchian, director of passenger experience, the first to hop aboard. The commercial version will have a pod capable of carrying 28 passengers. There will also be a pod designed to haul cargo.
Virgin Hyperloop One test track in Nevada
The hyperloop transport system is essentially a maglev vehicle that travels through a sealed, extremely low-pressure tube. The resulting lack of air resistance from the low pressure inside the tube enables the vehicle to travel at high speeds with minimal energy requirements. According to Virgin Hyperloop, its system will be 10 times more energy efficient than an air travel and four times more efficient than a conventional train.
It's an old idea that was popularized again when proposed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a white paper released in 2013. And maglev technology has been around for decades, with a commercial version in Shanghai in operation since 2004 able to reach speeds over 250 mph.
Estimates peg the first commercial hyperloop systems to be up and running around 2030. Of course, a lot needs to happen before then, including on the regulatory front. Fortunately, progress in this area, like on the technology front, is being made. In July, Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council unveiled a guidance document that lays out the regulatory framework for hyperloop in the United States.