NEW YORK – Think about the future of transportation, and you could imagine the old cartoon series “The Jetsons” with everyone flying around in personal spaceships.
Not only has that never happened, but we still huddle into creaky old subways and buses.
Josh Giegel wants to start from scratch. Virgin Hyperloop’s managing director and co-founder envisions that we should be able to travel between cities in minutes, a future not as far away as you might think.
Giegel sat down with Reuters to discuss how this emerging technology could change the way we live and work.
Q: Humanity faces all sorts of transportation challenges, so why do you think Hyperloop is the right solution?
A: We intend to move huge crowds of people at the speed of an airplane, giving them the ability to live where they want to live and work where they want to work. A hyperloop would move as many people and goods as a 30-lane motorway.
Q: How does the hyper loop work?
A: We put you in a tube that offers you many advantages. It is insensitive to weather and you avoid many things that cause accidents, such as crossroads.
Inside the hose we take out almost all of the air, so you can reach high speeds with very little energy consumption. We use magnetic levitation technology so that there is no grinding and everything is contactless and smooth. With electromagnetic propulsion and 20-30 passengers per pod, we could carry tens of thousands of passengers per hour.
Q: You actually raced at your proving ground in Nevada, so how was it?
A: Starting in a garage seven years ago, drawing it on a whiteboard and sitting in it, was all very surreal.
The acceleration was similar to that of a sports car and we were dizzy. Most of that test was that the world saw two people get on a hyperloop and two people get off.
Up until that moment everyone was asking, “Could it be safe for people?” Now we know it is.
Q: How will travel between cities speed up?
A: It changes the math. Check out how long it is currently taking you to traverse Manhattan. Maybe 40 minutes. You could travel from NYC to Washington, DC in less time. You could be driving from LA to Las Vegas in 40 minutes.
What we’re doing is similar to what Roman roads, Spanish ships and planes did – cutting the time associated with distance.
Q: What’s the schedule to start it up?
A: That’s less than 10 or 20 years away. Cities can already include this in their planning now.
I can’t say exactly who will be the first, but besides America, we’re also looking at places like India, Europe and the Middle East. We are probably looking at a time frame of 2025-27.
Q: How was your interaction with Sir Richard Branson as you are a Virgin company?
A: He is an accomplished dreamer who believes in what we are trying to do. What I like about Richard is that not only did he start his own business from scratch, but he’s also an adventurer.
We’re not just building a new kind of transportation system, we’re trying to get passengers to do something new – and that’s what he’s done, from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Cruises to Virgin Galactic. He knows how to build customer acceptance and loyalty.
Q: If this technology catches on, will it change the way people live and work?
A: One hundred percent. I have a two year old son and the way he can live is unlike anything we can imagine.
When you look at the cities of the future, people might want to live in one area and work in another. We can already see that with the pandemic. My dream is to live near Yosemite and then work with my team in LA. A hyperloop would give you the ability to do both.
Q: What do you want people to know about this technology?
A: Big ideas don’t have to take long. They can go from a garage to a moonshot idea in a few years.
This decade could end with hundreds of millions of people riding Hyperloop. For people who think this technology is many years away, I’ve ridden one. It is now.