By Arjun Kharpal and Matthew J. Belvedere
October 12, 2017
Hypleroop One is rebranding itself as Virgin Hyperloop One, and Branson is joining the board, the billionaire British investor and entrepreneur announced Thursday on CNBC from London.
Virgin Hyperloop One will focus on a passenger and mixed-use cargo service.
Last month, Hypleroop One raised $85 million in new funding, and that includes the investment from Virgin. Branson refused to provide numbers.
Breaking ground on a commercial hyperloop in two to four years is possible if "governments move quickly," Branson said in a "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.
The idea of the transport system — conceived in 2013 by Musk, the head of both electric automaker Tesla and SpaceX — works by propelling pods through tubes using magnets reaching speeds akin to those of airplanes.
"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." His sprawling Virgin Group empire includes a train network in the U.K., as well as airlines and a business to take tourists into space.
"There are consumers, for instance, that would love to go from London to Edinburgh in roughly 45 minutes. And that will be possible" with a hyperloop, he said. "You can have a pod outside your office that you and your colleagues can jump into. The pod can self-drive to the top of the tunnel. It then goes down the tunnel. It connects up and off you go at 600, 700 miles an hour up to your destination, going faster than an airline."
Appearing with Branson, Hyperloop One Chairman Shervin Pishevar told CNBC that with Virgin on board, the company will be able to "accelerate the commercialization process but also design the products with the consumer in mind." Pishevar, co-founder of Sherpa Capital, said Branson is a visionary in building great consumers experiences. After flying on Virgin Atlantic, Pishevar added, he "never saw air transport the same again."
"The customer experience of the pod is something that we definitely want to lean on Richard's and the Virgin Group's experience to create an experience when you walk into a hyperloop pod. ... You should feel comfortable. You should feel like you've been there before. This is not futuristic technology. This is happening now," Pishevar said. "It's [also] green and good for our planet."
Earlier this year, Hyperloop One carried out a full-scale test of its technology. A test sled was propelled through the tube for 5.3 seconds. The company said it hit nearly 2Gs of acceleration and a speed of 70 mph during the run. The next testing will target speeds up to 250 mph and feature the company's first passenger pod gliding through the hyperloop over a greater distance.
The company has been in talks with several governments, including the United Arab Emirates and Finland, to study the feasibility of building such a system. No deal has been signed. The company told CNBC in September that the Middle East would be a preferable market to begin with.
In July, Musk said his tunnel-digging firm The Boring Company had received "verbal" approval from governments to begin digging a tunnel for a hyperloop from New York to Washington, D.C.
Virgin Hyperloop One is not the only company developing the technology. Rival Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is also in talks with governments in Asia and Europe about building its own system.
Some critics have poured cold water on the hyperloop. Amtrak President Richard Anderson told CNBC recently that hyperloop systems would not be taking over rail transport anytime soon. He also added that such technology is not "realistic" right now.
Branson told CNBC on Thursday he will likely travel in space before he ever becomes a passenger on a hyperloop.
"I would be very disappointed if I haven't been into space within six months or so," the Virgin Galactic founder said. "I think it's more likely that I will go into space before I get into my pod."
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