From the Digital Trends CES Experience center, Ariana Escalante and Andre Stone continue our coverage of CES 2021 with Sarah Luchian, head of passenger experience with Virgin Hyperloop. Lucian was one of the first two people to travel on the actual Hyperloop — a fully electric, zero-emission vacuum tube transportation system that can reach speeds above 600 miles per hour.
“It was such a thrill!” Luchian says. Adding to the excitement was the fact that it was not only a big moment for her, but a big moment for the company. “We accelerated to over 107 mph in just about six seconds,” she says, “so it was a pretty zippy ride.”
But her focus is bigger than one zippy ride. “I think this has the potential to totally shift the paradigm of where we work, where we live, where we get educated, where we access healthcare — and certainly can change the paradigm” in large cities where traffic congestion and pollution are ways of life.
So when can the rest of us plan on taking a ride on the Virgin Hyperloop? Hopefully, it’s not as far off in the future as one might think. In West Virginia, Luchian says, the company has built several pods and tracks to prove to regulators that the whole system is absolutely safe.
The vision for the Hyperloop isn’t just as a fancy replacement train or bus. “So many aspects of it surpass our current modes of transportation,” Luchian says. It is ‘direct to destination’ (a fancy way of saying no stops in between) and it’s on-demand, so you don’t have to wait for it to arrive, but it’s designed for mass transportation. “It has the possibility to transform our communities both inside cities and between cities around the world.”
The Hyperloop isn’t just built for speed or reliability. They’re built with the riders’ experience in mind. Are the bad parts of our current mass transit systems — the wait, the time, the dirty, crowded subway cars or buses — inherent in the system, or are they just something we’ve become used to? “What if [the experience] was one of respite and calm, instead of angst and anxiety?” Luchian asks. She calls the process of designing a new system both a “huge responsibility, but also a huge opportunity.” She’s been working on incorporating different aspects to form a multi-sensory experience. “What are the visual cues? The materials? The lighting? The form factor? The sounds?” Those things all work together to form our experience. “Those are the things we incorporate into the cabin to give you a sense of comfort, safety, reliability, and relaxation.”
Luchian is admittedly excited about the future of both the Virgin Hyperloop as well as other modes of transportation incorporating things like haptics or a focus on relaxation. Regardless of what the future holds, she says, “I think we’re looking at a future where people can sit back and relax, and take the time that they’ve squandered in commuting…and actually be able to reallocate that to a more relaxed experience…where they can spend more time with loved ones at the other end.”