Richard Branson is impatient to transport people “at airline speeds on the ground.”
The business magnate and founder of Virgin Group announced Oct. 12 that his conglomerate had made a significant investment in the leading hyperloop startup, Hyperloop One, which will henceforth be known as Virgin Hyperloop One. He will also join the Board of Directors.
“We have a new ally in our mission to reinvent transportation,” Hyperloop One’s co-founders wrote in statement. “The Virgin Group and Hyperloop One will be entering into a global strategic partnership focused on passenger and mixed-use cargo service.”
The undisclosed investment amount could be a boon for the Los Angeles-based venture. 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.
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.
In July, Hyperloop One completed the first high-speed test run of its full-scale passenger pods in the Nevada desert, reaching a peak speed of 310 kmh (192 mph) and maximum distance of 436 m (0.27 miles). The system will need to reach far higher speeds if it is to meet the 50 minute projected travel time for a 332-mile-trip (534 km) from Edinburgh to London—currently a 4.5-hour train ride or 1.5-hour flight—referenced in Branson’s announcement.
The company also signed an agreement with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority last November to conduct a feasibility study for linking Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 12 minutes. How Virgin’s investment will impact these plans remains to be seen.