Virgin Hyperloop: The Future of Transportation

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Imagine a world where cities are connected as easily as metro stops. A world where you can travel from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in the same amount of time it currently takes you to drive across town. A world where you can travel 670 mph without polluting the air or harming the environment.


That’s the future envisioned by Virgin Hyperloop—and with the help of NI, they’re making it happen. Virgin Hyperloop is presently driving a radical transformation in the transportation industry through hyperloop technology: a new mode of transportation designed to eliminate the barriers of distance and time for both people and freight.

A render of a future hyperloop system. Photo Credit: Virgin Hyperloop


We had the chance to sit down and chat with Trevor Hanken, a member of the test automation team at Virgin Hyperloop, and Alex Wolpe, who manages the test software group. We talked about what Virgin Hyperloop’s journey has looked like thus far, how NI empowers the team to achieve their goals, how partnership opportunities enabled by NI are driving innovation, and what the future of mobility will look like.


The Future of Mobility


Virgin Hyperloop is on a mission to create fast, effortless journeys that expand possibilities. How are they planning to do that? With the introduction of hyperloop, the Virgin Hyperloop team is transforming the way we think about mobility and creating viable, sustainable alternatives to modern transportation.

A render of a future hyperloop portal that is seamlessly integrated into a city center. Photo Credit: Virgin Hyperloop


Currently, professionals working in large metropolitan areas are faced with challenges ranging from heavy traffic during lengthy commutes to added time spent away from loved ones because they live outside the city. These issues not only negatively impact these individuals and their families but also pose greater environmental challenges in the form of traffic congestion and energy consumption.


We are dealing with the effects of pollution and congestion—and with hyperloop, we can create a new standard for what 21st century travel looks like: One that is going to get us where we want with airline speeds and with zero direct emissions.

Trevor Hanken

Test Automation Engineer



Transportation that operates at unprecedented speeds is exciting for everyone, whether you’re someone who is tired of commuting or simply passionate about traveling and exploring. The introduction of hyperloop would also open doors for new possibilities of accessibility by stimulating new economies and creating opportunities for people to live and work in areas that would otherwise be unattainable. The benefits of this transformational innovation in the transportation industry are far-reaching.


What is Hyperloop?


Expected to provide direct and on-demand transportation, the hyperloop system consists of vehicles called “pods” that travel in a near-vacuum tube at speeds that can reach approximately 670 mph, or 1080 km/h. The novel experience that results from this new mode of transportation is one that is people-first and focuses on safety, comfort, and convenience.



One of the reasons that Virgin Hyperloop can achieve such high speeds is through magnetic levitation in tandem with near-vacuum tubes. As you might expect, there are many teams working together to ensure the success of this project—from building individual components to managing the control systems that levitate and guide the pods themselves as they move through the tube.


Both Trevor and Alex are core members of the test software group, with Trevor specifically working in test automation. He and his team are responsible for testing the behavior of hardware components that make up a hyperloop system, as well as subsystems composed of both controllers and the associated hardware. Essentially, this team writes software that both controls the stimulus to the device under test (DUT) and logs any feedback from the DUT and attached sensors.



Testing is a core component of our ethos at Virgin Hyperloop. We want to bring this new form of mass mobility to market quickly, and at the same time want to make sure hyperloop is the safest and most reliable form of transportation, which naturally requires lots of testing.

Trevor Hanken

Test Automation Engineer



Every hardware component, test system, and supporting software comes together to create a system that reinvents mass transportation as we know it. While developing this revolutionary system presents unlimited opportunity, there’s also a responsibility that is thrust upon the Virgin Hyperloop team.


Thus, this project is driven by a few key pillar:

  • Speeds— Hyperloop is set to transport people and products 3x faster than high-speed rail and more than 10x faster than traditional rail

  • Sustainability—This transportation system joins the fight against climate change by creating a more efficient and conscientious travel system

  • Safety—Extensive testing is done to ensure dependable and reliable transportation for every passenger and every ride

  • Experience—This new state-of-the art transportation system warrants a one-of-a-kind travel experience that revolutionizes modern transportation

Hyperloop is trailblazing the transportation industry and will ultimately minimize congestion, accelerate travel speeds, reduce energy consumption, and create a more sustainable travel economy


Achieving Vision Zero

At the heart of conversations surrounding the future of mobility is the responsibility we have as human beings to, as we like to say here at NI, engineer a healthy planet. Fortunately, NI and Virgin Hyperloop share a common goal of accelerating the path to Vision Zero, which calls for zero emissions, zero collisions, and zero congestion. Between traffic congestion, accessibility limitations, and pollution, we’re ready and hopeful for a new era of transportation that’s able to sustain humanity for the next 100 years.

The Virgin Hyperloop system operates inside of a tube with most of the air removed, creating a near-vacuum environment

which allows for high speeds and low power consumption. Photo Credit: Virgin Hyperloop


Embracing an efficient and environmentally friendly future of mobility presents its own set of unique challenges but is absolutely necessary to drive the movement toward Vision Zero. Hyperloop sets out to tackle this challenge head on—with plans to have a lower environmental impact than other modes of transportation and an emphasis on zero direct, as it is 100 percent electric.


With the ability to travel at airline-like speeds for long distances in a fully autonomous capacity, which may eliminate human error and avoid weather hazards, the future of mobility is looking bright. From professionals yearning to reduce the carbon footprint garnered by long commutes to the wanderlust-stricken people hoping for faster and more efficient methods of travel, everyone can celebrate this transition to a renewable energy-powered future.


NI is Connecting Experts with Each Other


Beyond providing hardware and software support to Virgin Hyperloop, NI’s partner network has been pivotal in helping the team achieve its vision. Truly, one of the most valuable and important cornerstones of NI is our ability to connect companies with experts and technology to transform transportation, inspire innovation, and drive performance. 



By working closely with NI, we have been able to find the right subject matter experts and partners to help us in building out our many test systems in such a short time.

Alex Wolpe

Software Test Team Manager



Specifically, Virgin Hyperloop has benefited greatly from working alongside Genuen, a team historically known for creating test systems and simulated real-world environments that produce the data needed to create reliable products or meet imperative regulations.


Virgin Hyperloop selected Genuen to help them build out the flight control’s hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) system which enables the Virgin Hyperloop team to verify and validate the embedded software as implemented in the embedded hardware design. According to Alex, Genuen has been very essential in helping the Virgin Hyperloop team design a HIL system that can meet the demanding requirements of the flight control team and their simulation environment.  



Utilizing NI Test and Methodology 


Testing hyperloop pod components and embedded control systems can be time-consuming without a simulation environment. That’s where the HIL side of things comes into play. The HIL team at Virgin Hyperloop is responsible for testing the behavior of controllers by integrating models into HIL systems. This allows the team to test out the “real-life” behavior of controllers without needing to have the fully assembled product. Using traditional methodology could be both cost-prohibitive and time-restraining.


"By simulating different scenarios a pod may encounter, we can test and verify controller behavior to ensure it will react appropriately," said Trevor. "We are able to parallel path multiple development streams with HIL testing, which helps tremendously to accelerate timelines."


Part of the verification and validation process involves getting as much reliability and robustness through a simulated environment as possible. In fact, collaboration with NI was crucial in creating a HIL system capable of emulating all controllers of a hyperloop pod, all built on the same platform: NI VeriStand.  


The value of the multi-year journey Virgin Hyperloop has sustained with NI is underscored by the openness and scalability that our platform provides the team, especially in adhering to timelines. The team agrees, “Having all components of these systems seamlessly integrate with each other has dramatically reduced our turnaround time for creating such a system. Additionally, it makes it much easier to maintain and adapt to new requirements and test cases.”


The HIL system is just one example of the way this team has pushed the boundaries of what they are able to accomplish. Virgin Hyperloop has also utilized NI hardware and software applications including CompactRIO systems and LabVIEW technology to accelerate timelines and drive optimal performance.



Expanding Possibilities 


From the test software side of things, one thing is certain: Virgin Hyperloop plans to continue working with our team here at NI for all testing needs as they continue to trailblaze the transportation industry and redefine 21st century travel.


Thus far, our test technology has played a crucial role in supporting the commercialization process as Virgin Hyperloop develops and begins to bring its product to market. As Trevor points out, it’s clear that moving from research and development efforts to prototype testing to fully developed system testing to manufacturing and end-of-line testing for quality requires extensive testing at each step of the product life cycle.  



NI has helped us with some roadblocks and challenges—and created updates to their products in response to the requirements we have faced. We deeply appreciate the assistance from all those at NI, and those at NI’s Alliance Partners, who we have worked closely with during these past years.

Trevor Hanken

Test Automation Engineer



From hardware and software to partnerships and continued support, we are beyond excited to be a part of Virgin Hyperloop’s journey to bring forth the future of mobility.   


So, what’s next for the Virgin Hyperloop team? Well, after the success of the team’s first-ever hyperloop test in November 2020, where passengers traveled 100 mph in only 6 seconds, they plan to continue leveraging NI’s evolving test technology and test solutions to support their plans for reinventing mass transportation and executing their bold vision. Stay tuned and keep up with the Virgin Hyperloop team to witness innovation and performance at its finest.


The Virgin Hyperloop team poses with their XP-1 test vehicle in 2019. Photo Credit: Virgin Hyperloop