Virgin Hyperloop late last week laid off more than 111 employees, cutting ties with its passenger travel aspirations to focus on cargo transportation.
Virgin Hyperloop has been at the forefront for the development of the hyperloop and was the first company to test the hyperloop pods with actual people. The company also had a complete concept for the future of transportation with full pods carrying passengers between cities through stations specifically created to manage hyperloop transportation. And just a few months ago, the company showcased a full-scale hyperloop passenger pod at the Expo trade show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
First reported by the Financial Times, now it appears the passenger travel portion of Virgin Hyperloop is being passed over in favor of cargo transportation.
Hyperloop is the so-called fifth mode of transportation. Hyperloop technology uses magnetic levitation to lift a pod off the track and guide it as it moves, creating a friction-free track. Almost all the air in the tube surrounding the pod is removed to create the same environment found at 200,000 ft above sea level. The combination of the linear motor, magnetic levitation and low-pressure tube reduces drag so that only a small amount of electricity is needed to propel the pod at speeds as high as 670 mph. This could possibly create a more cost-effective system than high-speed rail or airline transportation.
The technology is not only ultra-fast but is reportedly energy-efficient and completely CO2 neutral. This combination is one of the reasons the hyperloop has gained attention in the transportation market as countries look for new ways to meet carbon footprint requirements while providing new ways of traveling for consumers.
Virgin Hyperloop told the Financial Times that the company is changing directions due to global supply chain issues and that strong demand is seen for cargo-based services.
Virgin is not the only company developing hyperloop technology and not the only company focusing on the cargo side.
Zeleros, a Spanish start-up, is set to begin a cargo transportation pilot project in the port of Valencia, Spain, at the end of this year. The company plans to do a 100 meter demonstrator that will be ongoing by the third and fourth quarters of the year. A capsule will be able to carry about 2 tons of materials in the Spanish port, which is the busiest in the Mediterranean Sea.
Last summer, HyperloopTT unveiled its HyperPort, a vision of how the company would transport cargo through the seaport of Hamburger Hafen, in Hamburg, Germany. The Hyperport would be able to transport containerized cargo hundreds of kilometers in minutes. The system when fully operational would move 2,800 containers a day in an enclosed operation environment.
As Virgin Hyperloop moves away from passenger travel to focus on cargo transportation, regional support for the hyperloop has never been higher.
Late last year, the Biden Administration signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a wide-sweeping bill that would see investments for bridges, freeways and other means of transportation including the hyperloop.
It is the first time that hyperloop companies would be able to access federal government programs and funding for the transportation mode.
Meanwhile, the European Union made its first direct funding investment into hyperloop technology with a pledge of $17.4 billion to Dutch startup Hardt Hyperloop. Hardt is working to develop hyperloop routes and will demonstrate the technology in the European Hyperloop Center that will be in Groningen, Netherlands, and is critical to demonstrate lane-switching for high-speed hyperloop by 2023. Lane-switching is a key component to a hyperloop network that can offer direct journeys between cities without intermediate stops.