RIP, hyperloops

It was fun while it lasted.

Hyperloop One, the futuristic transportation startup that promised to whisk us through nearly airless tubes at airline speeds, is shutting down, according to Bloomberg.

The company is selling off its assets, closing down its offices, and laying off employees. It will formally close at the end of the year, at which point all of its intellectual property will shift to its majority stakeholder, major Dubai port operator DP World. Whoever buys the test track in the Nevada desert will have one hell of a Slip ‘N Slide if they want it.

Since its founding in 2014, the company raised around $450 million in venture capital funds and other investments. While there is still a small smattering of startups trying to build hyperloops, the demise of one of the biggest hyperloop companies signals the end of the dream that originated with Elon Musk’s so-called “alpha paper” in 2013.

Musk theorized that aerodynamic aluminum capsules filled with passengers or cargo could be propelled through a nearly airless tube at speeds of up to 760mph. These tubes, either raised on pylons or sunk beneath the earth, could be built either within or between cities. He called it a “fifth mode of transportation” and argued it could help change the way we live, work, trade, and travel.

The most eye-catching scenario he proposed was a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in only 30 minutes. The idea captured the imaginations of engineers and investors across the world.


The company made several important strides, including building a test track in Nevada to test out the safety and feasibility of the technology. In 2020, it conducted its first — and only — test with human passengers. The pod only reached a top speed of 100mph, far short of the original promise of seven times that amount.

Critics said that while the hyperloop may be technically feasible, it still only amounts to vaporware. It’s been called a “utopian vision” that would be financially impossible to achieve. It’s one of those technologies that is also “just around the corner,” according to its boosters — despite outwardly appearing to still be years away from completion. In 2017, Virgin Hyperloop’s top executives told The Verge they expect to see “working hyperloops around the world… by 2020.” That deadline was later pushed to 2021.

During the pandemic, nearly all of the top executives and founders left Hyperloop One, which also shed the Virgin from its name after the company decided to eschew passenger trips in favor of cargo.

In between then and now millions of dollars were raised, various corporate acquisitions and mergers occurred, that extremely underwhelming test was performed, and now this. E*** M*** has pivoted to underground tunnels for cars that seem only slightly less fantastical, not to mention much less appealing given who’s involved. I’m kind of sorry to see this idea bite the dust because as weird as it was it was also cool. Maybe the next big weird idea will work out. TechCrunch has more.

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