Exclusive: Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Jay Walder says the firm is working to improve ties with Saudi academic institutions
Virgin Hyperloop One hopes to one day help establish an “institute of hyperloop studies” in Saudi Arabia as it expands its research and development presence in the kingdom, according to CEO Jay Walder.
On July 22, Virgin Hyperloop One announced a development partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Economic City Authority (ECA) to conduct a study to build the world’s longest test and certification hyperloop track, as well as a research and development centre and hyperloop manufacturing facility at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), north of Jeddah.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, Walder said that the agreement is also designed to “think about how we’re connecting this to education, and to industry and manufacturing”.
“We’ve entered into an arrangement to look at this together,” Walder said. “What we’re really talking about is not just what we imagine it can do today, but how we think about the future as well.”
As part of that goal, Walder said that Hyperloop One is building a relationship with the nearby King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
“As part of that, we have entered into an agreement to explore the relationship with the university, both from a research perspective and also from a student perspective,” he added. “Imagine, for example, an institute of hyperloop studies as part of the university there as well. That could be really, really exciting.”
According to Virgin Hyperloop One, the technology – which is expected to reach speeds three times faster than high-speed rail systems – will be able to transport passengers and freight between Riyadh and Jeddah in 76 minutes.
Currently, the trip between the two cities takes approximately 10 hours by car, or 1 hour 40 minutes flight time.
A hyperloop trip between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Walder added, would take 48 minutes, as opposed to today’s 8.5 hours.
“This is an incredible opportunity…for a connected Gulf, for re-imagining the way different cities and countries are connected to each other and their relationship of space that we’ve come to accept, and dramatically change that,” Walder said.
Walder added that he believes the hyperloop had the potential to change the kingdom’s entire economy, with technology at its core.
“They (Saudi Arabia) have a real desire to be able to effect economic change,” he said. “It [the hyperloop] is an incredible step in going from being a consumer of technology to being a developer of technology and being at the forefront.”