Mon 06 Jun 2016 - Tech
It’s been less than a month since Hyperloop One demonstrated our first working propulsion system. At our test site in the desert north of Las Vegas, we shot a bare-metal sled down a short track at 2.4 g’s---zero to 100 mph in 1.9 seconds. It was only a four-second test, with no brakes except a bank of sand, but our non-contact electric motor worked just as designed. For our engineers it was a huge moment. Months of hard work went into designing a new kind of propulsion system, and the motor more than passed the test. We took a real step toward making the world’s first full Hyperloop system.
The Hyperloop is a new way to move people or things anywhere in the world quickly, safely, efficiently, on-demand and with minimal impact to the environment. The system accelerates a passenger or cargo vehicle through a steel tube in a near-vacuum using that linear electric motor. The autonomous vehicles glide comfortably at faster-than-airline speeds over long distances due to the extremely low aerodynamic drag and non-contact levitation. There’s no direct emissions, noise, delay, weather concerns nor pilot error.
Our mid-May propulsion test generated a good amount of attention. Everyone brought their own a point of view. Most applauded and saw it for what it was: a first step. Others wisely started asking the hard questions. That’s good. We like hard questions, many of which we’ve asked ourselves already and some that we haven’t. So let’s take a moment to answer those that we can.
One big question we get: Why should society be investing time and money in an untried technology when we could be investing in existing modes of transportation and more proven technologies like high-speed rail? We don’t think it’s an either-or proposition. Governments should invest in better roads, metros, airports and container ports. A growing population and global economy demands more and better infrastructure. We’ve always considered Hyperloop a complementary mode of moving people and freight.
We don’t know exactly how much the first few Hyperloops will cost to build and maintain, but one outside auditor estimates we can deliver better performance for 60% of the cost of high-speed rail. That’s a start, but it’s not the disruptive improvement we’re aiming to deliver. Our engineers have ideas to get those costs down even more.
Hyperloop is a new, unprecedented and under-development technology. It’s on us to manage expectations. Sometime around the end of the year we plan to unveil our DevLoop, a working prototype of the complete system with track and vehicle moving in a near-vacuum environment. We’ve already started clearing the ground for DevLoop which, when its first phase is completed, will extend for a kilometer north of our original test side. Tube deliveries are starting in a week or so and we’ll start prepping and welding them on site, and then securing them up on columns and custom designed joints.
We’ve gotten great questions about the unintended positive and negative consequences of Hyperloop. Who needs it? Who is it intended to serve? What can it do for regions that other forms of transportation cannot do? Some impacts you can plan for and some you can’t. The U.S. national highway system brought dramatic economic growth to post-war America at the cost of white flight, congestion and sprawl. We don’t know what we don’t know, but we do know that there are big opportunities to arbitrage real estate values and there is great demand to knit cities into more connected regional economic hubs. The Netherlands wants to be first to build Hyperloop in their country. So does the United Arab Emirates, and Russia, and the Nordics. Stockholm has a 15-year waiting list for apartments and booming tech sector, while the Helsinki area has an abundance of housing and underemployed engineers. We’re working on a feasibility study with FS Links of the Aland Islands to connect Stockholm and Helsinki with a 20-minute Hyperloop journey, an elegant way to rebalance the economies of the region.
Hyperloop is at its core an engineering problem, but we’re working in parallel to ensure we can and will meet all the necessary regulatory and safety approvals that apply to other transportation modes. We like regulation. It’s comforting to know that some smart people looked into a problem and came up with guardrails to keep people safe and businesses from cutting corners. We might need brand new regulations and we’d work with our global partners in business and government to get those passed. We might be able to move ahead without entirely new regulations, merely some selected changes to existing rules, but we think either course will not be a deal breaker. Hyperloop may likely appear first outside the U.S., but that’s more of a function of where commercial interest is greatest than it is the difficulty of navigating Washington.
Another whole set of questions we get often is around securing rights-of-way, and ensuring that the trajectory of the vehicle path and the integrity of the tube it moves through offers a comfortable ride at airplane speeds. Maybe it’s obvious to say, but we wouldn’t build something that is uncomfortable to ride in. Our acceleration and deceleration will be so gradual that you won't be able to feel it, anymore than you would getting onto a highway ramp in a Honda sedan. In turns, there are plenty of ways to counteract the g-forces a person would experience, even at high speed, by adjusting how the vehicle banks inside the tube. Tunneling will help eliminate bends in the network and, while it adds cost, our tunnels don't need to be as big as rail or road tunnels because our tube diameter is smaller.
Will Hyperloop vehicles and tubes have windows? What about emergency exits? How do you ensure passengers get to the next station? We’re working on these issues right now. We’re not ruling out windows, but we’re focusing more on the passenger experience inside the vehicle rather than figuring out how to create apertures in steel tubes. We may have evacuation points along the way, but that also adds cost and complexity to a system maintaining a near-perfect vacuum. A better solution may be to have passengers glide to the next station, where they can evacuate safely.
We think the Hyperloop is a technology everyone can use and afford. We’re facing skeptics, cynics, champions, competition and the confused. We’re not conjuring anything and we’re not performance art. There are a dozen or so people cutting, sawing and welding out back in our downtown Los Angeles headquarters as I write this. We’re going to continue inventing and investing--with private money--until we prove Hyperloop works.
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We're a privately-held company on a mission to create fast, effortless journeys that expand possibilities and eliminate the barriers of distance and time.
There are too many people caught bumper-to-bumper in traffic, who have to make a hard choice with their family on where to live and work, and who are limited in their access to experiences and opportunities. We're building a system that will give back time and deliver the travel experience of the future.
The number of cars is set to double worldwide by 2040, same with air and trucking. We are already dealing with the effects of pollution, lack of access, and congestion. If we only invest in the same technologies we’ve had for more than a century, tomorrow will look like today, only much worse. It’s been over a century since the Wright Brothers first showed us human flight was possible. It’s time for a new era in transportation capable of carrying us forward for the next 100 years.
To date, we have received over $400 million.
A major investor of ours is DP World, a leading enabler of global trade who sees the potential of sustainable hyperloop-enabled cargo systems. Additionally, we are backed by the Virgin Group, an industry leader across rail, aviation, ships, and even spacecrafts. For more on our investors, visit the company page.
Virgin Hyperloop One is the only hyperloop company that has a strategic partnership with a mass transportation company, the Virgin Group, an industry leader across rail, aviation, ships, and even spacecrafts. Another key partner of ours is DP World, a leading enabler of global trade who sees the potential of sustainable hyperloop-enabled cargo systems. Other industry-leading partners include KPMG, Foster + Partners, Systra, BIG, SNCF, GE, Deutsche Bahn, Black & Veatch, McKinsey, Deloitte, Jacobs, Turner & Townsend, ARUP, and Steer, among others.
No, there’s no connection with Elon Musk.
We aren't just building a hyperloop; we're building a network of public and private partners to scale an integrated supply chain ecosystem. Our business model is based on partnerships that create local jobs and opportunities for those who choose to invest in this technology. We are working at the highest level of governments around the globe to put in place commercial agreements to make hyperloop a reality.
Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation designed to eliminate the barriers of distance and time for both people and freight. It can travel at speeds approaching 700mph, connecting cities like metro stops - and it has zero direct emissions. The journeys can be booked on demand so there’s no wait time or delays.
With hyperloop, vehicles, called pods, accelerate gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube. The pod floats along the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag.
On May 12th, 2017, we made history two minutes after midnight when we successfully launched our vehicle using electromagnetic propulsion and levitation under near-vacuum conditions at our full-scale test site in the Nevada Desert. We've since run hundreds of tests, acquiring validated knowledge that only comes from real-world testing. For more info on DevLoop, our 500 m test track, visit our progress page.
We estimate that the top speed for a passenger vehicle or light cargo will be 670 miles per hour or 1080 kilometers per hour. That is about 3 times faster than high-speed rail and 10-15 times faster than traditional rail. The average speed vehicles travel will vary based on the route and customer requirements.
A perfect vacuum would decrease the drag on the vehicle even more, but not significantly. We have already gotten rid of 99.9% of the air in the tube. Lower levels of vacuum than this are important if you are performing scientific experiments, but the cost would not be worthwhile.
Hyperloop is an entirely new mode - think the best of trains, planes, and the metro. Hyperloop is on-demand, offering flexible travel schedules with no stops, no transfers, and no weather delays – all at speeds about 3 times faster than high-speed-rail and less cost. Hyperloop is highly efficient, with a smaller environmental impact than high-speed rail because the closed system can be tunneled below or elevated above ground, avoiding dangerous at-grade crossings. The VHO system is 100% electric and can reach higher speeds than high-speed rail for less energy due to our proprietary electric motor and low-drag environment.
Fast, effortless journeys go hand-in-hand with journeys where everything works reliably without interference, and where all passengers feel comfortable and safe. The Virgin Hyperloop is designed to be inherently safer than other modes, with multiple redundancies in place. Our system operates autonomously in an enclosed tube and is not susceptible to weather delays, accidents from at-grade crossings, human error, or power outages. Our proprietary high-speed switching architecture eliminates unsafe track configurations and moving trackside parts, a failure point of traditional rail with mechanical switches.
As new mode, we have to prove our safety case to regulators and work with them to develop a regulatory framework, so passengers can ride the hyperloop in years not decades. We are encouraged by the support we are seeing at the local and federal level around the world to support hyperloop certification based on the fundamentals of safe operating that are already standard practice. In March 2019, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, created the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council to explore the regulation and permitting of hyperloop technology to bring this new form of mass transportation to the United States. This Council is an important step forward in recognizing hyperloop is a new transportation mode and that we need to shift our mindset and acknowledge that this technology does not fit into a regulatory structure that is over 100 years old. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DGMOVE) has also been leading discussions with hyperloop companies to advance regulatory standards and, in India, the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA), Prof. Vijayraghavan, has set up an independent committee called the Consultative Group on Future of Transportation (CGFT) to explore the regulatory path for hyperloop. For more, visit our regulatory progress pages.
While flying through a tube at more than 1000km/h might seem like a thrill ride, the truth is we are able to mitigate any uncomfortable acceleration forces within our controlled environment. The journey will be so smooth, you could sip a coffee the whole time without spilling a single drop. Normal acceleration and deceleration of 0.20 Gs will feel similar to a train. As a comparison, flooring a typical sedan gives between 0.4-0.5 Gs and commercial airplanes see 0.3-0.5Gs depending on the plane and load.
Pods will continue to travel safely to the next portal even with a large breach. Our response to a breach would be to intentionally repressurize the tube with small valves places along the route length while engaging pod brakes to safely bringing all pods to rest before it is deemed safe to continue to the next portal. A sustained leak could impact performance (speed) but would not pose a safety issue due to vehicle and system architectural design choices. This assessment is based in solid understanding and analysis of the complex vehicle load behaviors during such an event.
Without a massive leap forward, pollution from the transportation industry is expected to almost double by 2050 - well above the carbon budget. By combining an ultra-efficient electric motor, magnetic levitation, and a low-drag environment, the VHO system can reach airline speeds for 5-10x less energy (depends on route length) and can go faster than high-speed rail using less energy. In regions like the Middle East, we could power the system completely by solar panels which cover the tube. As fighting against climate change becomes an existential issue for cities across the globe, hyperloop will create a new, shared, electric mobility model for helping to permanently reform an industry with some of the world’s highest carbon emissions.
We are designing Virgin Hyperloop to be more efficient than other modes of transportation. Modern jetliners use up to 10 times the energy we use per passenger-mile over the entire journey. We can cruise at 500 miles per hour for less energy (per passenger) than an electric car doing 60 miles per hour. At peak speed, the VHO system consumes approximately 75 watt hours per passenger kilometer (Wh/pax-km). To put this in perspective, the fastest conventional maglev train travels at about half our speed and consumes 33% more energy.
Our system is 100% electric with zero direct emissions. We're energy-agnostic. Our system can draw power from whichever energy sources are available along the route and support a transition to a renewable energy-powered future. In regions like the Middle East, we can completely power the system with solar panels which cover the tube.
It’s similar those new electric vehicles that are so quiet they need to create noise to indicate movement. With hyperloop, we eliminate sources of mechanical noise, like wheels on track, and we actually have a sound barrier inherent in our tube design
DP World Cargospeed is a global brand for hyperloop-enabled cargo systems operated by DP World and enabled by Virgin Hyperloop technology. These systems will deliver freight at the speed of flight and closer to the cost of trucking for fast, sustainable, and efficient delivery of palletized cargo.
The focus would be on high-priority, on-demand goods – fresh food, medical supplies, electronics, and more.
With DP World Cargospeed, deliveries can be completed in hours versus days with greater reliability and fewer delays. It will expand freight transportation capacity by connecting with existing modes of road, rail, ports, and air transport, and will provide greater connectivity with manufacturing parks, economic zones, distribution centers, and regional urban centers. This can shrink inventory lead times, help reduce finished goods inventory, and cut required warehouse space and cost by 25%. DP World Cargospeed networks can also enable just-in-time, agile manufacturing practices.
The Virgin Hyperloop is unique in that it doesn’t need to be passenger-only or cargo-only. We are designing a mixed-use system that fully utilizes system capacity while maximizing economic and social benefits. However, it is possible to run cargo commercial operations while certification and regulation are still ongoing for passenger use.
We are working with the most visionary governments around the world to make sure you can ride the hyperloop in years, not decades. Our goal is to have operational systems in the late 2020s. Our ability to meet that goal will depend on how fast the regulatory and statutory processes move.
We are working with visionary governments and partners around the world to make hyperloop a reality today. To learn more about our projects around the world, visit our progress page.
Capital and operating costs will range widely based on the route. We recently released a study that showed our linear costs are 60-70% that of high-speed rail projects. In addition, we expect the operational costs to be significantly lower than existing forms of transportation.
It’s simple – if it’s not affordable, people won't use it. We are looking to build something that will expand opportunities for the masses, so they can live in one city with their family and work in another. Currently, that kind of high-speed transport is not feasible for most people. The exact ticket price will vary for each route, but a recent study showed that riding a hyperloop in Missouri could cost less than the gas needed to drive.
We are in the business of serving local needs, not the other way around. Public and private support is key. In some cases, we will respond to solicited bids with partners when we feel the technology matches the project’s objectives. In other cases, we will make an unsolicited bid for a project when we see that hyperloop could offer a unique solution to market needs.
While the technology is different, the process for building a hyperloop is similar to that of building a highway, railway, or any other type of linear infrastructure. The first stage is project development. This phase includes feasibility studies, and then more detailed engineering reports and environmental impact studies. Once a project is approved to move forward, a consortium is formed to finance and deliver on the project.
Many infrastructure projects succeed or fail based on right-of-way issues. We are designing a system that requires only about half the right-of-way as high-speed rail and can more easily adapt to existing right-of-ways. At high speeds, the VHO system has a 4.5 times tighter turn radius compared to high-speed rail and can climb grades that are 6 times steeper, reducing the disturbance at crossings. Portals will be purposely integrated into and support existing communities and landscapes. Low noise levels will expand opportunities to build hyperloops closer to the city center.
Hyperloop also holds enormous promise for rural communities. Virgin Hyperloop systems can be built below or above ground, which means no one’s farm needs to be cut in half. Our system enables rural areas to retain residents, who can now have more access to urban job centers, educational opportunities, and health care facilities. Additionally, hyperloop could enable freight distribution centers to be placed in rural areas, leading to job growth and industrial clusters. After a system is built, there is the opportunity to add additional on and off-ramps, supporting a greater number of people along the route.
Transportation infrastructure has traditionally relied on extensive government funding. This is because the benefits of clean, safe, and efficient transportation are enjoyed by the entire community, not just the user buying a ticket. However, most existing mass transportation modes are unprofitable and hindered by existing infrastructure built in the past century or by legacy systems. We want to change that and are focused on public-private partnerships. By developing a new mode of transportation from scratch, we're able to leverage technological developments that have occurred in the last century, especially the IT revolution. We're able to keep maintenance costs low, energy efficiency high, and transport tens of thousands of passengers per hour. This keeps margins and accessibility high, contributing to more financially attractive returns than if the corridor was served by existing modes. These benefits aren’t just hypothetical. While this is an exceptional case due to high demand, a third-party evaluation found that our Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop Project could be funded 100% by private capital. In the U.S. we see enormous potential to attract investment from the private sector, leveraging public investments. Involving government stakeholders as well as potential private investors early in the project development process is critical.
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