Humans tested in loop for first time

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Virgin Hyperloop successfully tested human travel in a hyperloop for the first time on Sunday. It’s a new form of transportation in which people travel inside a vacuum tube with very high speeds. (Nov. 9)

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Sick of flying or driving to your destination?

In the coming years, you may be able to reach your destination by taking an ultra-high-speed pod that zips through a vacuum in a metal tube.

Virgin Hyperloop took a step closer to making its high-speed transit technology a reality on Sunday with the first official test of the system with humans inside the pod.

The company, part of billionaire business titan Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, said the test took place on its 500-meter track outside of Las Vegas.

Co-founder and chief technology officer Josh Giegel and Sara Luchian, director of passenger experience, rode in a two-person hyperloop pod for about 15 seconds, reaching a top speed of 107 miles per hour.

The eventual goal is to reach speeds of about 1,000 kilometers per hour, or about 621 mph, in yet-to-be-designed 28-person pods. At those speeds, it would be traveling at about the same rate as a commercial jet but with no greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change.

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The company had previously run 400 unoccupied tests of a system that first generated buzz when Tesla CEO Elon Musk proposed it as a solution for high-speed long-distance travel several years ago.

“For me, it was just such a thrill—an exhilarating feeling,” Luchian said. “From a physical perspective, it was actually a lot smoother even than I was expecting.”

Giegel said, “Even before we actually started moving it was all a bit surreal.”

The Virgin Hyperloop uses electromagnetic levitation propulsion inside a vacuum tube, simulating what it feels like to travel at an altitude of about 200,000 feet, or five to six times the altitude of commercial jets.

While Musk’s initial vision called for hyperloop rails connecting cities over long distances, Virgin Hyperloop is aiming to begin with shorter routes and eventually expand to farther distances. Giegel said it would likely begin with routes of 10 to 20 miles and that it could travel underground or above ground.

“We’re direct to your destination,” he said. “We’re not stopping at every place along the way.”

For now, the company hasn’t provided official cost estimates, which could vary considerably based on whether the technology is deployed in a public or private capacity. But Giegel said the company’s goal is to provide rides for a price in the ballpark of 20 cents per mile, which would equate to $4 for a 20-mile ride.

“We’re not looking to be exclusively for the rich or anything like that,” he said.

Among the company’s biggest hurdles are regulatory approval and convincing passengers to try the technology, he said.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

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