New York to D.C. in thirty minutes? The warp-speed possibility may be closer than you think.
On Sunday, the Virgin Hyperloop conducted its first successful shuttle with human passengers. The Hyperloop, a product of Richard Branson’s extensive innovation empire, is a pod-like vehicle that uses magnetic levitation technology to shoot passengers through a vacuum tube at historic speeds. While this weekend’s test did not break 100 mph, Virgin foresees the Hyperloop system ultimately barreling through tunnels at 600 mph.
Eventually, Branson hopes the lightning speed of this transit system will make neighbors out of distant cities like New York and D.C., or Los Angeles and San Francisco. Though the test model only allowed two passengers – both high-ranking Virgin execs with company insurance – the company hopes that their future shuttle will seat 28 people. And while that load may seem small compared to an Amtrak train, Virgin anticipates the Hyperloop to run so quickly and frequently that it will offset the limited number of seats.
The lucky test passengers on Sunday were Hyperloop co-founder Josh Giegel, and director of passenger experience Sara Luchian. In a video from the event, both participants bear ear-to-ear grins as they speed 500 meters in only 15 seconds.
Prior to its first human trial, the Hyperloop underwent 400 test runs to ensure absolute safety. Following this Sunday’s successful run, co-founder Giegel said that he believes his company is on track to transform human transportation.
“When we started in a garage over six years ago, the goal was simple — to transform the way people move,” Giegel said in a statement. “Today, we took one giant leap toward that ultimate dream, not only for me, but for all of us who are looking towards a moonshot right here on Earth.”
But the cutting-edge technology that enables the Hyperloop is not completely novel. It uses electric propulsion and electromagnetic levitation to move the pod, technology similarly used in high-speed rail projects in Japan and Germany. Additionally, the vacuum-sealed tunnel that surrounds the pod is reminiscent of the pneumatic tube, a technology with roots in the 19th century used mostly for the rapid transport of messages in a glass container.
Still, Virgin has broken new ground by combining these technologies, and making them safe for transporting human commuters.
“Hyperloop is about so much more than the technology,” Luchian remarked. “It’s about what it enables. To me, the passenger experience ties it all together. And what better way to design the future than to actually experience it first-hand?”