Remember hyperloops? The idea is to place passengers in pods and, using electromagnetic levitation, whisk the pods through giant tubes in a near vacuum at more than 600 mph.
While it may still sound like science fiction, the concept, popularized by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has been moving closer to reality. The U.S. government is even working out how to regulate it.
One of the leading companies striving to commercialize high-speed tube travel, billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop, passed a major milestone Sunday. It completed its first human test run, albeit in a scaled-back version.
The test was on Virgin Hyperloop’s 0.3-mile DevLoop test site in Las Vegas. The two passengers were Chief Technology Officer Josh Giegel and Director of Passenger Experience Sara Luchian. A launch video shows the pair grinning broadly during the short ride, which hit a top speed of 107 mph, a fraction of the speed the production version is expected to reach.
The company completed more than 400 unoccupied tests before the pod made its human transport debut.
“Hyperloop is about so much more than the technology. It’s about what it enables,” Luchian said in a statement. “To me, the passenger experience ties it all together. And what better way to design the future than to actually experience it firsthand?”
Companies such as Virgin Hyperloop and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is also based in Los Angeles, tout high-speed tube travel as the first new mode of mass transportation in more than 100 years. In July the Department of Transportation published guidance on a clear regulatory framework for hyperloops in the U.S.
“When we started in a garage over six years ago, the goal was simple – to transform the way people move,” Giegel said in the 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.”
The maiden voyage with passengers on board was in a two-seater pod called the XP-2. The production vehicle will seat up to 28 passengers.
Virgin Hyperloop announced in October that the company picked West Virginia to host a $500 million certification center and test track. Construction is planned to begin in 2022.
“I had the true pleasure of seeing history made before my very eyes,” said the chairman of Virgin Hyperloop, Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem.