Virgin Hyperloop One is a transportation system that is truly game-changing – a futuristic pod ‘floating’ above its track, propelled through a low-pressure tube. Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Josh Giegel describes the journey so far…
Did you always want to be an engineer?
At the age of around 10, I realised that engineers are not just good at science and maths; they’re also really smart at problem-solving. And that stuck in my mind.
Engineers, more than anyone else, come closest to predicting the future. We sit at our desks and we know exactly how something is going to work before we even start building it. And that, to me, is really cool.
Were you always focused on transportation?
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to change the technology of high-performance travel, and one day I figured out that it wasn’t just about how fast you can go. Transportation is about the whole end-to-end experience. If you change how that’s done, you can create a totally new travel experience.
Why is hyperloop based on opensource technology?
The original white paper on Hyperloop talked about a tube-based transportation system, and it discussed some of the technology involved. So it was really just a case of pushing an idea out there and seeing who could run with it. 15 years ago, the same thing happened with driverless cars – it was a genuinely game-changing idea that was pushed out into the technical community, and now it’s a reality. So open-source technology can be a really powerful way to create change and positive competition. Because the other thing that defines engineers is intense intellectual competition – we don’t just want to do it first, we want to do it better!
Does your previous experience at SpaceX help?
I joined [aerospace company] SpaceX straight out of grad school, and the biggest thing that changed me as an engineer was being encouraged to start building what I had designed, rather than overthinking the design. It costs a little more but you get results faster. I like that approach: after all, Hyperloop is a public transportation system and people can’t ride PowerPoint!
Were you excited about the Virgin partnership in 2017?
Super-excited. The Virgin brand is synonymous with planes, trains and space travel, so it was a perfect match. I had met Richard Branson twice before he came on board, and we have the same ethos. For Richard, it’s always about the whole end-to-end experience, not just the technology. When Richard says he’s going to do things differently, he does.
Do people believe in Hyperloop One?
In the very beginning, a lot of investors fell into the ‘disbelieving’ category. They told me I could do anything with my engineering career, so why was I choosing to do this? But over the course of the last three years, I’ve seen a profound attitude change. It’s no longer a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’. And that is really exciting.
Will you be ‘live’ by 2021?
I feel confident, but the big obstacle is regulation. The regulation surrounding transportation in the US is going to have to start adapting faster to new technology.
What comes after Hyperloop One?
I have a big long list! What we’re working on right now is a new mode of transportation that could potentially change people’s lives in relatively simple ways.
When Hyperloop One is up and running, we will have reinvented the wheel. Then we’ll start working through my list of all the other things about travel and transportation that need to change. I don’t anticipate having to go anywhere else to get my engineering kicks!