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Virgin and Hyperloop one become fast friends

The Virgin Group, run by Richard Branson, announced on Thursday that it was investing in Hyperloop One

Jacey Fortin | NYT 

Richard Branson, Virgin Group
Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson. (Photo: Reuters)

High-speed hyperloop transit — the futuristic concept involving passenger pods that could zip from, say, San Francisco to Los Angeles in a half-hour — just got a boost from

The Virgin Group, the multinational venture capital corporation run by Branson, announced on Thursday that it was investing in Hyperloop One, a Los Angeles company that has been developing the transit technology since its founding in 2014.

Executives at — now called Virgin — and the would not reveal the size of the investment.

Nick Fox, the Virgin Group’s chief communications officer, said Virgin did not become a majority shareholder in the young company, adding that Branson now has a seat on its board. He said the idea to invest came from Branson himself, who visited the site of a hyperloop test run in Nevada this year.

“Richard was excited by the concept,” Fox said in a phone interview on Thursday. “He’s always looking at the future of transport, whether it be in space or on land, and he’s run trains for more than 20 years in the United Kingdom.”

include Virgin Trains, a railroad operator in Britain, and Virgin Galactic, which is dedicated to commercial spaceflight.

employees do not call their project a train — after all, it does not use tracks. Instead, magnetically levitating passenger pods use electric propulsion to zip through low-pressure tubes, transporting people and cargo at speeds of up to 670 miles per hour. That’s the idea, at least: No human has taken one of these high-speed rides just yet.

But has been developing the technology for years, applying for dozens of patents and sending one pod on a successful 500-meter test run in July. Now the company is ramping up its business development and fundraising.

“We would have done the branding deal and the partnership if they didn’t invest a penny,” Marvin Ammori, Hyperloop One’s general counsel, said of Virgin in a phone interview on Thursday. “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, has raised $245 million since 2014. “This feels like the moment when all of this stuff is coming together,” Ammori said.

High-speed travel in levitating pods is still in its early stages, so is unable to say for sure when a working system might be in place — the target is 2021 — or where in the world that might be. The company has reviewed thousands of proposals for routes in countries including Mexico, Britain, and the United States, and it is testing the waters with governments around the world. “We consider it a race for the first hyperloop,” Ammori said.

Hyperloop transit has it critics, who describe the idea as an ambitious pipe dream that has left many questions unanswered, including several about its cost.

Some scoffed when Elon Musk, the serial tech entrepreneur, released a white paper on hyperloop technology in 2013 that claimed a link between San Francisco and Los Angeles could be completed for less than $6 billion. (More has been spent to renovate a single California bridge.)

Musk’s white paper was made available to the public as means of encouraging hyperloop development. His own companies, which include SpaceX and Tesla, are not formally involved in Hyperloop One’s work.

©2017 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Sat, October 14 2017. 01:03 IST