December 5, 2021

Virgin Hyperloop passes first test with human passengers

The Virgin Hyperloop company, which is turning Elon Musk’s idea of ferrying passengers through vacuum tubes at high speeds into reality, has reached its most important milestone yet: it carried human passengers for the first time. 

The test, concluded on Sunday, consisted of carrying two passengers some 500 meters (1640 feet) in a pod that goes through a near-vacuum tube on Virgin Hyperloop’s test track in Nevada. The pod achieved speeds of 107 mph, and the trip took 6.25 seconds. 

The interior of Virgin Hyperloop's XP-2 pod.

The interior of Virgin Hyperloop’s XP-2 pod.

Image: Virgin hyperloop

The two occupants — Josh Giegel, co-founder and chief technology officer, and Sara Luchian, director of passenger experience at Hyperloop — wore casual clothing and experienced no issues during the short trip. 

Virgin Hyperloop employees Josh Giegel and Sara Luchian were the first passengers to ride in the XP-2 pod.

Virgin Hyperloop employees Josh Giegel and Sara Luchian were the first passengers to ride in the XP-2 pod.

Image: virgin hyperloop

According to the New York Times, Luchian said the ride was “much smoother” than she expected, while Giegel commented that it felt “not that much different than accelerating in a sports car.”

Musk first described the hyperloop concept in 2012, but has not pursued it commercially, instead opting to freely allow other companies to turn it into a real-life way of transport. It consists of carrying passengers in pods traveling through sealed tubes with low air pressure, which reduces air friction. The pods float above the track using magnetic levitation and are driven forward by an electric motor. The system theoretically makes it possible to carry the pods at speeds of over 700mph, while expending very little energy. 

Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop, said that Sunday’s test proved the system is safe. “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,” he said in a statement. 

Virgin Hyperloop plans to launch a commercial hyperloop in 2021, though it will need regulators to get on board. The company is currently building a bigger, six-mile-long test track in West Virginia. Other companies working on hyperloop tech include Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is based in Los Angeles and Dubai, as well as Hardt, which is based in the Netherlands.