Commentary

Branson Joins The Believers As Hyperloop One Rebrands With Virgin

With Sir Richard Branson climbing on board, the high-speed transportation concept being developed in the Nevada desert — with the goal of moving humans and their creations in magnetically levitated pods at speeds approached 700 mph — has been rebranded Virgin Hyperloop One

“You may first have heard of the original hyperloop name through Elon Musk and SpaceX’s white paper back in August 2013. Hyperloop technology has been explicitly open-sourced and others have been encouraged to take the ideas and further develop them. Virgin Hyperloop One are leading the way in these efforts and are working on exciting projects in the Middle East, Europe, India, Canada, and the U.S.,” Branson writes in a blog post that explains his enthusiasm for both the concept and this particular iteration.

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“The details of [Musk’s] proposal might have been unconvincing to many experts — one transportation engineer noted that, among other things, Musk radically underestimated the cost of concrete viaducts, the unpleasantness of high-speed tight corners and the difficulty of safely stopping in an emergency — but the proposal spawned a number of companies eager to work on versions of the idea,” Alex Hern reports for the Guardian.

“Hyperloop One has risen to the forefront of those companies, with another, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, not far behind. Both have abandoned some of Musk’s initial concepts, such as the proposed route and cost estimates, but kept the core technological proposal intact.”

Musk’s own entry in the field, The Boring Company, was in the news in July when its honcho titillatingly tweeted that he’d gotten a verbal okay from the feds to build a New York to Washington, D.C., tunnel. No new ground has been broken on that report.

Meanwhile, Branson’s Virgin Group is investing an unspecified amount of money in Virgin Hyperloop One and Sir Richard will sit the board of the Los Angeles-based company.

“We would have done the branding deal and the partnership if they didn’t invest a penny,” Marvin Ammori, Hyperloop One’s general counsel, tells Jacey Fortin of the New York Times. “They have experience taking on incumbent industries with innovation.”

“The funding came during the company’s last investment round, which closed in September and raised $85 million. In total, Hyperloop One has raised $245 million since 2014,” Fortin reports.

“Breaking ground on a commercial hyperloop in two to four years is possible if ‘governments move quickly,’ Branson said in a [CNBC] ‘Squawk Box’ interview. So far, no government has approved a plan for a hyperloop system. The Virgin founder also said that building a hyperloop tube above or below ground is ‘cheaper’ and ‘faster’ than a traditional rail network,” Arjun Kharpal and Matthew J. Belvedere report for CNBC.com.

“As a train owner,” Branson said, “I felt this is something that I want to be able to operate. At the moment our trains are limited to 125 miles an hour.”

Indeed, “Virgin, which already runs a successful train service in Europe, has both the existing infrastructure and business relationships to help Hyperloop One implement and scale its systems,” points out Karen Hao for Quartz.

“The backing also lends the venture renewed confidence in the eyes of its stakeholders. Just last year, it suffered a major publicity hit after ousted co-founder and CTO Brogan BamBrogan filed a nasty lawsuit with three other colleagues against co-founder Shervin Pishevar, alleging a laundry list of offenses, including labor law violations, defamation, assault, and ‘fake pornographic Twitter accounts.’ The suit, and Pishevar’s countersuit, eventually settled under confidential terms,” Hao continues.

“The money isn’t the only connection between Hyperloop One and Virgin; the Hyperloop company’s president of engineering, Josh Giegel, is a former Virgin employee. Branson noted in a blog post that he also visited Hyperloop One earlier this summer to view its technology first-hand, at the Hyperloop One DevLoop test track site in Nevada, outside Las Vegas,” Darrell Etherington writes for TechCrunch.

“The feasibility of Hyperloop routes across North America, Europe and the Middle East are being examined, but a full-scale test has yet to take place anywhere. Hyperloop One and Musk's Tesla conducted pod tests earlier this year that involved successfully sending scaled-down versions down tracks at a fraction of the speeds promised by the technology,” Eric Mack writes for Forbes.

One thing’s for sure: There’s a lot of money riding on the belief that magnetically levitating pods that will transport goods and people in tunnels between cities at a near breakneck pace are not just the pipe dreams of folks who have their heads in the sand.

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