Hyperloop’s quantum leap will propel Dubai (and the world) into the future
Sir Richard, when you think about what is happening in the transportation space globally there are a lot of worries about potential trade wars and the rhetoric between world leaders. What is something that you think could move a cloud into that space?
I do think that the Virgin Hyperloop can play a big role. The reason I became Chairman was because I found this ridiculously exciting. I think that if we can build Virgin Hyperloops in different countries, maybe Saudi to the Emirates or India to Pakistan, that will bring the world much closer.
The changing nature of consumers could take years to get done and billions to spend. Isn’t there the worry that consumers will have changed by the time you get it all done?
Well we are going to be breaking ground in India in months. We are going to be breaking ground in other countries which we will be announcing soon as well. So I think we are talking two to three years away. We are not talking about many years away. My children and grandchildren are going to want the same things as I’m going to want. They are going to want to be able to get to places quickly. They aren’t going to want to sit in traffic jams. They are going to want their Amazon packages that come from America now. So I think these things can happen quite quickly.
People are worried about security concerns across the region, what are you planning to do to keep this secure?
I’ll just give you a quick taste of what is going to happen. If you take two airports, let’s say they are 70km apart from each other, and you connect them with a Virgin Hyperloop, it is going to take you six minutes to get from one to the other. No customs, no passports. The JFK pod you get in will go straight to the JFK gate, with your baggage which will go straight on the plane. You won’t have the two hours at the airport and all the misery that it causes. It is a futuristic world that we are talking about, a really exciting futuristic world.
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And this will make things actually more secure?
Much more secure.
There are a lot of Hyperloop technologies floating around. What makes this one different?
Whether we actually keep the name Hyperloop is something we are questioning because I think this company is way ahead of all the others. The reason I joined is because there is a brilliant person called Josh Giegel who is the engineer and the genius behind it, and who got 200 engineers together to create something completely unique, something that goes faster than anybody else, that we believe will be a lot safer than anybody else. They are way ahead of anybody else. So we are proud to put the Virgin brand on it and you know the proof will be in the pudding. I think that we will get the main contracts, we will deliver fantastic service, and I think Virgin Hyperloop will build that around the world.
You mentioned potentially changing the Hyperloop name?
I think that the Virgin brand is quite a strong brand and it’s been around for 50 years. I think that’s the key differentiator perhaps from the other Hyperloop brands. But I personally feel that this particular concept has so many different factors from the others including the technology which we obviously can’t reveal. It is so exciting that it deserves a new brand. It’s something which we’re seriously going to consider and maybe we’ll be doing another interview in a few weeks time.
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Why do you find Dubai so particularly exciting when it comes to brand awareness and the ability to be creative and different?
Dubai are open to new things. I mean they want to be the first in the world with anything exciting and new. And there’s nothing more exciting than Virgin Hyperloop. So we’re a marriage made in heaven. The fact that the ruler of Dubai came here to the QE2 [DP World Cargo Speed launch], that says a lot about this. It says a lot about the whole concept and how excited Dubai are about what the Virgin Hyperloop is working on and doing.
You’re sort of the barometer for what’s cool to invest in. What’s the next big thing?
We like to do cutting edge things. And as you may have seen [a few] days ago we had a very successful flight of our spaceship. In the next three or four weeks will have another. We’re on the cusp of fulfilling our dream which has taken 800 engineers 13 years to work on. We hope in the not too distant future to start sending people into space. The lovely thing is that a lot of people want to go to space. We’ve also got something called Virgin Orbits which is going to put bigger satellites around the earth and connect the four billion people who are not connected. So there’s an awful lot of exciting stuff going on out there and you know Virgin likes to be part of part of these exciting developments.
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What’s something that keeps you up at night? Is it geopolitics? Is it how the world is changing? Is it climate change?
We have a couple of organisations, one called The Elders and another one called Carbon War Room and another one called the B team, that all are working on climate change issues. It was magnificent that 192 nations signed up at Paris. But what keeps me awake is that to get to carbon neutrality by 2050, well we’ve got to work really hard to get there. Virgin Hyperloop will be carbon neutral. We’ll be using the sun and batteries to power it. This will take a lot of lorries off the road and an awful lot of cars off the road. So it’s up to us entrepreneurs to come up with entrepreneurial ways of getting on top of these problems.
This interview was conducted by CNBC Middle East’s Hadley Gamble. The transcript has been edited for clarity.