Innovations of 2021 that are set to change the world

Virgin Hyperloop's XP-2 pod
Virgin Hyperloop
Anna Brech
by Anna Brech
2 April 2021

This content is part of’s Groundbreaker series, celebrating the creators and innovators at the forefront of radical change. From the champions of trailblazing greentech to new-gen space engineers, these are the bold new thinkers determined to make the world a better, greener and fairer place. Join us for a closer look at the beating entrepreneurial heart of Virgin and its partner companies – where risk-taking reigns supreme. 

Bold, breakout thinking has always been at the core of the Virgin brand. Now more than ever before we are living in an age of innovation. Everything around us is changing so quickly.

The onus is now with a new generation of engineers and designers to create solutions that help people in their daily lives. This might be anything from making the space industry more accessible to creating greener forms of mass transit, for an eco-city commute that is actually affordable. 

That’s the mission that companies across the Virgin family have thrived on in the past 12 months – with spectacular results. Here’s just a flavour of their work, and the groundbreaking impact it will have this year:

A bold new dawn for cleaner travel 

Mass travel is squaring up for a step change. Engineers at Virgin Hyperloop completed a successful human passenger test in the Nevada desert last autumn. And now they’re continuing to develop their vision of high-speed intercity travel with zero direct emissions. 

By combining an ultra-efficient electric motor, magnetic levitation, and a low-drag environment, hyperloop systems can transport commuters at airline speeds; potentially allowing half-hour routes from LA to San Francisco. While commercial operations aren’t expected to run until 2030, this year represents a major leap forward for Virgin Hyperloop: its  100% electric system has been recognised as a key piece of technology for the EU’s smart mobility strategy

Paving the way to accessible space intel

The dream team over at Virgin Orbit have always blazed a trail when it comes to busting down barriers in space awareness and accessibility. A milestone for the satellite launch company came early on in 2021, as its LauncherOne rocket reached space using a new technique called air launch. This “picture-perfect” release saw the LauncherOne rocket launch from under the wing of a jet aircraft, rather than from a traditional ground-based launch pad. 

Virgin Orbit’s rockets are designed to release small satellites into orbit, to collect and transmit data worldwide. The company’s vision is to provide smaller, lighter and more affordable satellites, unlocking a fresh era of space capabilities. The benefits of this approach are huge, from connecting communities across vast distances to stimulating the global economy and expanding the limits of human knowledge. 

The success of January’s mission has given rise to the world’s most flexible and responsive launch service, with technology that can fly on short notice, and from a wide variety of locations, to access any orbit. The breakthrough in the world’s first orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fueled rocket will open the door to a new generation of innovators, who are able to work from an agile and affordable launch system. Work is already underway to use the integration on commercial service projects around the world. 

Driving the transition to e-mobility

2021 signals a huge moment in the fight against the climate crisis, with world leaders gathering in Glasgow this November for the COP26 summit. The phase-out of ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles is a vital part of The Paris Agreement goals agreed on by UN members. As electric street racing pioneers, Envision Virgin Racing is working right by COP26 to raise awareness of e-vehicles, and their capacity to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 70%

The UK is one of a handful of countries committed to the full phase-out of ICE by 2030, with a £2.5 billion investment in electric cars, charging points and battery technology. With sales of e-vehicles already booming this year, the UK’s presidency of COP26 is an important turning point in this groundbreaking journey to e-mobility – with Envision Virgin Racing right by its side. 

Pushing boundaries in organic wine

Talking of the environment, organic wine is also having its time in the sun right now – with UK sales rising by nearly 50% in the past few years. With zero genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or added sulfites, this winemaking process is great for promoting biodiversity and sustainable farming methods – not to mention the fact that organic wines generally have lower alcohol and sugar content. 

Our friends at Virgin Wines are at the epicentre of the organic revolution, with local experts such as Nicola Allison (above) spearheading efforts to transform viticulture processes in Old World regions of France, for a purer, environmentally cleaner class of vino. 

Groundbreaking design at Virgin Voyages

The folks at Virgin Voyages are well-used to Making Ship Happen – in fact, it’s the cruise liner’s go-to motto. The innovative team is breaking new ground this year (figuratively and literally) with the creation of a brand new terminal at PortMiami, aka the "Cruise Capital of the World". 

Terminal V, spanning nearly 200,000 square feet, commands an iconic spot overlooking the city’s MacArthur Causeway. The design by award-winning architects Arquitectonica will pivot around a palm grove concept that harks back to Miami’s golden age of travel, and is expected to be completed by October. Better still, its creation is expected to generate 1,000 construction jobs in the local economy.

The terminal offers just a taste of the daring innovation and creativity at the heart of Virgin Voyages’ design ethos – with the real excitement taking place on-deck. Sailors aboard the luxe cruise experience are treated to state-of-the-art design and tech accents, including mood-matching cabin lights, spacious rain showers and rock star suites with bottomless in-room bars. 

This high-octane approach is key to shaking things up and challenging the status quo. With the creation of bold design elements at the nexus of taste and tech, Virgin Voyages can ensure its cruise ships stand out, and truly deliver the wow factor.