Engineering students hurl Hyperloop pods down California test track

SpaceX has run several competitions aimed at pushing forward the ambitious Hyperloop project, with the latest one wrapping up on Sunday.

Although a couple of companies are working on developing the track technology for the ultrafast transportation system, it’s engineering students from around the world who’ve been busy designing the pods that passengers could one day ride in.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the man who dreamed up the Hyperloop concept back in 2013, has been using the contests to encourage students to develop the capsules, which, if the system ever goes into operation, will carry people inside a near-vacuum environment at speeds of up to 760 mph. At that rate, a journey between Los Angeles and San Francisco would take a mere half hour.

Showdown

Taking place just outside SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and judged by SpaceX engineers, the 30 teams in the latest competition spent the last week putting their pods through a range of tests in the hope of securing a run on the test track.

Three finalists were selected, with each one given the chance to send their half-size prototype along the enclosed mile-long track on Sunday.

The Delft Hyperloop team from Delft University in the Netherlands triumphed after gaining the highest overall score with its super-sleek, carbon-fiber pod (above) incorporating a specially designed brake and stabilization system. The Technical University from Munich in Germany picked up the award for the fastest design, though speeds are currently way down on those expected with the final Hyperloop system. Among U.S. entrants, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) finished third overall.

MIT had already caught the attention of judges last year when it won the Best Overall Design Award during an early phase of the contest, while Delft University had previously collected the Pod Innovation Award.

SpaceX said that based on the “high-quality submissions and overwhelming enthusiasm surrounding the competition,” it’s planning a second installment of the contest — Hyperloop Pod Competition II — for later this year.

Focusing solely on speed, the summer showdown will be open to all-new student teams with pods designed for the test track, as well as to existing teams with tried and tested pods.

Addressing the participating teams on Sunday, Musk said the event was designed primarily to “encourage innovation in transport technology, to get people excited about new forms of transport … to really get people to innovate and to think about doing things in a way that’s not just a repeat of the past, but to explore the boundaries of physics and see what’s possible.”

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