Hyperloop test XP-2

First passengers carried in Hyperloop pod

Image credit: Virgin Hyperloop

In a first for the technology, Virgin Hyperloop has carried two passengers in a short demonstration of its Hyperloop test track in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas.

The Hyperloop is a proposed form of rapid, energy-efficient transportation, involving a pod travelling through a sealed tube containing a vacuum at near aircraft speeds. The concept was popularised and “open sourced” by industrialist Elon Musk as an efficient alternative to road transport infrastructure.

In recent years, several groups have been working to advance and eventually commercialise the technology, including with an annual Hyperloop Pod Competition supported by SpaceX.

Virgin Hyperloop (formerly Hyperloop One) has made significant progress, raising at least $400m from investors and building a 500m “Development Loop” in Nevada, with which it carried out its first full-scale test in 2017. It has since carried out 400 tests without passengers.

This week, Virgin Hyperloop carried out its first test with human passengers on its Development Loop, demonstrating critical safety measures incorporated into its Experimental-Pod-2 (XP-2).

The two passengers – CTO Josh Giegel and director of passenger experience Sara Lucian – took approximately 15 seconds to travel the length of the track, travelling at 48m/s.

“When we started in a garage over six years ago, the goal was simple – to transform the way people move,” said Giegel. “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.”

Lucian commented: “Hyperloop is about so much more than the technology. 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?”

According to the company, riding in the pod is as safe as riding in a lift, with a state-of-the-art control system that can detect off-nominal states and immediately trigger appropriate emergency responses. The system was independently validated by an independent safety assessor, Certifer.

“I can’t tell you how often I get asked “is Hyperloop safe?”” said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop. “With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment, but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety which has been validated by an independent third party.”

According to Virgin Hyperloop One, it plans for its production vehicle to seat up to 28 passengers and to travel at up to 670mph (1,080 km/h).

In addition to raising concerns about safety, critics of the Hyperloop concept have raised concepts about the potentially vast cost of building entirely new infrastructure, particularly for the long-distance tracks proposed by Musk. However, several governments have expressed interest in the concept, and in July 2020, the US Department of Transportation published a guidance document on a regulatory framework for Hyperloops in the US.

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