Hyperloop One, the startup that aimed to revolutionize transportation with pods traveling at airline speeds through low-pressure tubes, is shutting down operations on December 31st after failing to secure enough investment and make progress on building working systems.
Hyperloop One was founded in 2014 to realize Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s vision for a fifth mode of transportation, first outlined in a 2013 whitepaper. The hyperloop concept promised silent, energy-efficient capsules traveling at 760 mph through vacuum tubes elevated on pylons or buried underground.
The startup raised nearly $500 million in funding and struck deals with governments around the world to explore hyperloop routes. However, it grappled with internal turmoil, safety concerns, and huge technical and infrastructure challenges that ultimately proved insurmountable.
|Elon Musk publishes hyperloop whitepaper
|Hyperloop One founded as Hyperloop Technologies
|Conducts first open-air propulsion test
|Virgin Group invests; company rebrands to Virgin Hyperloop One
|Completes first passenger test at 170 mph
|Lays off half its staff as focus shifts to cargo
|Shutting down on December 31st
Shut Down Triggered by Lack of Progress and Investment
After nearly a decade, Hyperloop One had failed to create a commercially viable hyperloop or even demonstrate a working passenger system.
While it showed early prototypes and conducted successful tests of components like magnetic levitation and vacuum pumps, the company did not make enough progress toward real systems to convince investors to continue funding its massive costs.
“The hyperloop is like the supersonic passenger plane. It seems like such a good idea, but the practical challenges mean it doesn’t get built,” said James Hayton, transportation technology expert.
Without enough private funding or public infrastructure projects secured, Hyperloop One was burning through cash without a path to profitability. The company was set to run out funding in early 2023, triggering leadership’s decision to finally cease operations.
Hyperloop One made lofty promises to develop new ultra high-speed ground transport networks connecting cities like Pittsburgh and Chicago in under 30 minutes. But its business model relied on governments subsidizing multi-billion dollar hyperloop infrastructure projects – investments that ultimately never materialized.
While the startup struck feasibility study deals and collaborations with authorities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, India, and the Middle East, no contracts for actual hyperloop construction were ever signed.
Without real systems built, Hyperloop One was unable to validate that its hyperloop pods could in fact safely accelerate to 760 mph while transporting passengers and cargo. Safety concerns and infrastructure requirements presented massive barriers still far from being solved when operations ceased.
Winding Down After Virgin Pulls Out
In late 2022, lead investor Virgin Group sold its stake in Hyperloop One and ceased involvement with the company as it failed to hit technology milestones.
The loss of Virgin’s brand recognition and Richard Branson’s influence was a vote of no confidence that made it even harder for the startup to raise new capital.
In recent months employees had been laid off, resources diverted entirely to cargo transport, and facilities sold off in desperation moves before the total shutdown was initiated.
Hyperloop One will spend December 31st winding down operations, before closing its doors permanently. The company says it still believes the hyperloop can transform transportation, but recognizes the technology is still many years away from being ready.
The Hyperloop Dream Dies
While theoretical hyperloop routes criss-crossed the globe and prototypes hinted at its speed potential, the technology never managed to prove itself as a new form of transportation in the real world during Hyperloop One’s lifetime.
Without full-scale working systems built out, hyperloop did not deliver on its grand vision of connecting distant cities in minutes. After $500 million invested and progress stalled, investors finally pulled their support for good.
For now, the hyperloop joins jetpacks, flying cars, and video phones as exciting technology headline grabbers that fail to cross the bridge from fiction to fact. Perhaps someday the hurdles will be cleared, but this startup won’t be the one to get us there.
With Hyperloop One shutting down, the hyperloop industry loses its most prominent player. But a handful of other startups still aim to keep the technology alive, though likely focused on cargo transport rather than passenger travel.
Leadership from the deceased company may also regroup to launch new ventures applying narrow parts of their expertise on more incremental transportation technologies.
But the promises of people zipping across continents and countries in floating pods at speeds rivaling air travel will not come from Hyperloop One. Its December 31st closure marks the end of its grand vision for transforming human transportation. For now, the hyperloop dream dies along with the shutdown of its biggest champion.
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