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KSA and the Hyperloop Century

KSA and the Hyperloop Century

Tuesday, 9 October, 2018 - 07:30
Josh Giegel
Founder of Virgin Hyperloop One
Any Silicon Valley company worthy of its name always begins with a business vision that always ends with the goal of changing the world for the better. The same may be true of entire countries led by enlightened leadership intent on creating a better life for individual citizens. When, as a high-tech engineering company we first started to consider the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a potential partner for our revolutionary hyperloop technology, we found ourselves confronted by the phenomenon of a new style leader armed with a vision and out to transform his own society for future generations at a level of speed unprecedented in the Kingdom’s own history.

So, the question became how two entirely different cultures—the American West Coast of constant change and an Islamic society deeply rooted in tradition—could mutually share in the same benefits of radical innovation, and how each would further the cause of the other while understanding the inherent limitations and challenges of cross-cultural dialogue. Our work with the Kingdom thus far has been a classic case of advanced technology applied to the civic, social and economic structures of a country in order to result progress without sacrificing values. In this regard, one may say that our hyperloop system and the Vision2030 program of the Kingdom have found each other at the right place and the right time.

This was most recently evidenced in our trip to Jeddah in September to film an in-house commercial promoting the viability of the hyperloop system in and around the GCC. We featured the Saudi founder of one of the region’s first vertical farming enterprises who must travel between Jeddah and Dubai –a 1676-kilometer, three-hour flight--on a regular basis for his work. The time, this gentlemen explains in the film, that he would save traveling between the two cities by our technology would not only be cut to about 90 minutes, but could be reinvested in business travel to other cities; to better local management of his work and, most of all—to his own family.

Much like “the Aramco Century” which helped to usher in the economic and social modernization of the Kingdom when American oilmen and the outstanding modernist HRH King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud joined forces with nearly seamless cooperation to advance industry, society, health and education over the course of eight decades. This combination of American technology and Saudi vision will be necessary to what one may deem “the Hyperloop Century”. By this, we mean a new century driven by digitalization, unsurpassed speed, automation, “smart cities” and clean, highly sustainable environmental standards all necessary to the economic future of the Kingdom and, indeed, the world. Like his grandfather, HRH Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has constructed his Vision2030 in response to future generations of technology critical to the survival and prosperity of the Kingdom in the modern age.

However, none of this will mean anything without transportation. Transportation is the fundamental material backbone of all material change and transportation is currently on the threshold of its first revolution in 100 years. Hyperloop, more than any other transportation technology; more than automated cars, drones, sonic flight, or unmanned aircraft, is the leader in mobility of the future.

Why? Because the hyperloop is: a) terrestrial movement at the speed of a jet, therefore as applicable to cargo as it is to passengers; b) it integrates with current infrastructure—it does not “destroy” or replace airports or freeways or train stations but integrates with their current foundations, thus adding to the all over infrastructural economy; c) it is fully sustainable with zero direct emissions, has very low operating costs owing to its near-vacuum interior; and will cost no more than average intra-city regional travel.

In a word, any country that envisions cities or regions of the future is not a country that can be without hyperloop technology. The future of high-speed mobility, of which our particular system is the global leader, will not only mean the ability to move passengers and cargo at ground level at record rates of speed, but will contribute to the social and economic benefit of communities throughout the Kingdom in ways not often associated with transportation.

How, exactly, would hyperloop affect the Kingdom for the better in tandem with the goals and vision of Vision 2030? The reasons are multi-fold and speak to the vibrant society, thriving economy and ambitious vision the Kingdom has made its mission. A hyperloop economy would localize promising manufacturing industries and develop them into regional and global leaders. It would develop the brightest minds in priority fields. It would grow the SME [small to medium enterprise] contribution to the economy. It would enable the development of the Saudi tourism sector and ease access to healthcare services. It would ensure environmental sustainability and improve livability in Saudi cities. It would develop the digital economy, improve the ranking of educational institutions, and push forward the GCC integration agenda.

Cargo shipping is also essential in this respect. Our partner, DP World, who has a long history in the Kingdom overseeing the port of Jeddah, has partnered with us to create ‘CargoSpeed’, a joint venture to deliver freight at the speed of a flight, but closer to the cost of trucking. Hyperloop, for example, can eliminate the need for various intermediaries in logistics operations, such as ports and carriers by enabling products to be transported directly to consumers. This can add up to far more than the savings in transportation costs, especially for high-value and time-sensitive products, ultimately optimizing the end-to-end journey. What this could mean for the building of NEOM, for example, Red Sea tourism development or logistics transport along the Arabian Gulf is quite significant from both a cost and volume perspective.

Hyperloop technology is no longer the dream of “Silicon Valley mavericks”. In September, the United States Congress invited us to testify before the Senate on the advances of our technology. We were the only such company to receive this honor. The event underscored the fact that we are keen to work with governments, as has been the foundation of our success so far in the US, in India, Europe, and the Mideast.

It is naturally our hope that one day the best and the brightest among the next generations of talented Saudi youth will forge the future of modernization in their country with as much pride in “The Hyperloop Century” of US-Saudi relations as we have witnessed in our economic partnership of the last. This is the role of technology truly at its most meaningful: as a force for positive change, for diplomacy; the transformation and well-being of society—breaking down barriers of time and distance along the way in order to clear the path to limitless potential and borderless understanding.

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