Following the recent announcement by Virgin Hyperloop, it seems like we’ll have to endure an extended period of patience to use hyperloop transportation systems. And if you’re hoping for hyperloop travel to be the future of transportation, one thing’s for certain; the future isn’t now.
We all know that the transportation industry is not one that frequently makes a lot of changes, be it upgrades or rollbacks. We’ve gotten used to broadly classifying them into the road, air, water, and rail routes, believing it may not get better. The new development from this industry-leading company pretty much promotes the already dry perception we’ve got when it comes to progress in means of transportation.
All we’ve ever gotten are illustrative videos or tests involving staff in simulated environments. All, of course, are CGI of what a practical scenario would look like, never anything close to the real deal.
It got worse in February 2021 when the company decided to cut down staff size by almost 50% as part of their new adjustments to focus on cargo. At the same time, it retracted from being the first hyperloop company to transport people. While most hyperloop tech enthusiasts believe this flop isn’t a surprise for a company, primarily with positive hype and vibes rather than the operations they’re handling, there’s still an all-around disappointment because we’ve been making steady progress since Elon Musk’s proposal in 2012.
From strength to failure
Virgin Hyperloop seemed to be making significant progress when it successfully conducted a human passenger test on its DevLoop test track outside Las Vegas. The test, conducted in November 2020, carried two staff passengers who traveled 500 meters in the ‘Pegasus pod,’ which clocked speeds of 172 kilometers per hour in 6.25 seconds.
More so, there seemed to be a lot of positive buzz around the company, especially as they also claimed to have completed over 500 test drives in their Las Vegas testing facility.
However, all the progress targeted towards being the first passenger hyperloop provider came to a halt and eventually retracted as they turned their attention toward freight transportation. Although there are some positives to be taken as it’s meant to support the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, it’s still a major blow to people who anticipate taking trips on the hyperloop in the near future.
While that’s the case, some sections of spectators believe the company’s progress is stalled because of the departure of some key participants, namely; the co-founder and CEO, Josh Giegel, who lasted seven years with the company, and Steve Hobart, who also resigned in July 2021 to take up a role in Astra.
At any rate, it’s not any surprise to see short-term employment periods in the autonomous vehicle sector, but cutting down almost 50% of a staff size translates to losing over 100 employees just after the losing the CEO calls for some raised eyebrows.
How does Virgin salvage the situation?
It is worthy to note that before the breakdown, Virgin had already established a subsidiary called DP World Cargospeed systems with a mission to handle time-sensitive deliveries of cargo like medical supplies or perishable food.
Getting regulatory bodies’ approval to handle non-passenger transportation is much easier, just as we have with drones and eVTOLs. We may see an accelerated commercial launch for cargo transportation, which isn’t likely for the hyperloop.
Implications of hyperloop one failures for rural hyperloops
From what we know, Virgin Hyperloop one is designed to include global development and key infrastructure changes.
We understand that the company has plans for routes in Dubai, India, and the US (North Carolina and Texas, to be specific).
While that may be true, there was never any report of significant infrastructural work under or above-ground in any of these locations; we only had the testing ground in Las Vegas.
Had there been any such development, we would expect other hyperloop competitors to come to the area to further the groundwork of this Virgin’s halted project.
Although we now know for certain that DP world Cargo will replace the presence of Virgin Hyperloop in Dubai, it remains to be seen what will happen to the other locations as it’s a project targeting only the middle east for now.
Did Virgin hyperloop explore all options?
Some people believe things could have been done better. According to Cate Lawrence, a tech journo for TheNextWeb, the development would have been much more progressive and economical if the model was like that of Nevomo, a Polish hyperloop company. The company focuses on developing and upgrading existing railway tracks and transforming them into vacuum hyperloops.
It’s difficult to say for certain if there was a better way of handling the project, given that most comments at this point are merely hindsight talks. What’s certain is that the retrenchment at Virgin one means an extended delay in getting hyperloop transportation for human passengers. Maybe the hyperloop will be entirely forgotten if cheap supersonic flights become a reality.
Feature image: Virgin Hyperloop One XP-1 pod by Z22. Licensed under CC BY 4.0