Virgin Hyperloop, the high-speed transport company backed by Sir Richard Branson, has carried its first human passengers across the Nevada desert in a world first.
Travelling at more than 600mph, three times faster than high speed rail, Hyperloop systems involve transporting passengers in pods through near-vacuum tubes.
Instead of running on rails, the pods use magnetic levitation to "float" as if they were pucks on an air hockey table.
After more than 400 unmanned tests, Sunday’s trial was the first to carry human passengers.
Josh Giegel, co-counder and CTO, and Sara Luchian, director of passenger experience boarded the newly-unveiled two-seater XP-2 vehicle on its maiden voyage.
They travelled 395 metres, hitting a top speed of 48.07 metres a second, or 107.5mph, in a two-seater pod designed to show that passengers can travel safely. The company says its pods will hold 28 passengers when in production.
Josh Giegel and Sara Luchian in the Hyperloop pod
“Hyperloop is about so much more than the technology. It’s about what it enables – the trips you’d be able to take from Paris to Berlin, Lisbon to Madrid, or Warsaw to Prague,” said Luchian,
“To me, the passenger experience ties it all together. And what better way to design the future than to actually experience it first-hand?”
Virgin Hyperloop CEO Jay Walder has previously said the technology will prove revolutionary for inter-city travel, reducing the three-hour drive from Columbus to Pittsburgh to just 25 minutes.
“With today’s successful test, we have shown that this spirit of innovation will in fact change the way people everywhere live, work, and travel in the years to come,” said Sir Richard.
The Hyperloop pod designed for the journey
Mr Walder said it proved that the technology was safe. “I can’t tell you how often I get asked ‘is hyperloop safe?,’” he said. “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.”
The Hyperloop concept was born when Tesla-founder Elon Musk published a 57-page paper in 2012, outlining his vision for a future where people and cargo travelled in floating pods through vacuum tubes at speeds up to 700mph.
Mr Musk, who was too busy running both Tesla and SpaceX to bring the idea to life himself, invited others to try. Virgin Hyperloop was just one of the companies created to take the challenge. Canada’s Transpod and Spain’s Zeleros are also developing similar technology.
Virgin’s Hyperloop system, which uses an electric motor, aims to be safety certified by 2025 and begin commercial operations by 2030.