Last weekend, 30 teams from around the world assembled at SpaceX headquarters in southern California for the latest round of the Hyperloop Competition. Three teams passed all the preliminary tests and were given access to the one mile long SpaceX Hyperloop test track on the premises. The overall winner was the team from the University of Delft in the Netherlands. That is no surprise. Delft teams have been consistent winners in the Formula Student electric race car competition in Europe and have crafted the world’s fastest hydrogen fuel cell race car.
Second place was awarded to a team from another highly regarded European technical school, the Technical University of Munich, popularly known as TUM. Its entry achieved the highest top speed in the low pressure test track. A team from MIT placed third in the Hyperloop Competition based upon the overall technical sophistication of its entry. All of the trophies were 3D printed using the same machines that SpaceX uses to print components for its Falcon 9 rockets. The full list of award winners is as follows:
- Delft University: Highest Overall Score; Design and Construction Award
- Technical University of Munich (WARR Hyperloop): Fastest Pod Award
- MIT: Safety and Reliability Award
- University of Maryland (UMD Loop): Performance and Operatons Award
- University of Wisconsin-Madison (Team Badgerloop): Pod Innovation Award
- rLoop (the only team unaffiliated with a university): Pod Innovation Award
Before being allowed to use the SpaceX test track, each entry was closely scrutinized by engineers from SpaceX for structural integrity and suitability for the low pressure environment the Hyperloop is designed for. In theory, creating a partial vacuum inside each Hyperloop tube will lower wind resistance and allow the pods inside to reach speeds of 700 miles per hour or more. If that ever becomes a reality, a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco would take only 30 minutes to complete.
According to SpaceX, “The purpose of the competition is to help accelerate the development of a functional Hyperloop prototype and encourage student innovation by challenging university students to design and build the best Hyperloop pod.” Speaking to the teams, Elon Musk said the Hyperloop Competition was intended to spur innovation in the field of transportation and to “explore the boundaries of physics.”
— MIT Hyperloop (@MITHyperloop) January 30, 2017
The final phase of the competition will be held sometime this summer, although the exact date has yet to be announced. All 30 teams will be welcome to attend. Those that did not meet the requirements needed to gain access to the test track last weekend will have until then to tweak their entries based upon the input and advice of the SpaceX engineers who inspected each of the entries.
“Exploring the boundaries of physics” is something Musk is known for. The challenges presented by the Hyperloop concept are considerable, but if the system can ever be made commercially viable, it promises high speed transportation of people and freight at a fraction of the cost of traditional infrastructure such as railroads and highways. It will also represent a serious challenge to the airlines. According to Musk’s original vision, the Hyperloop will be powered by solar generated electricity, eliminating the carbon emissions associated with traditional transportation systems.
A real Hyperloop is a long way off. The top speed recorded last weekend was only about 60 miles per hour. But don’t tell that to the thirty teams involved in the competition. DARPA started experimenting with self driving vehicles nearly 30 years ago. Now self driving cars are on the verge of becoming part of the mainstream. If the Hyperloop ever becomes a reality, it will likely happen a lot sooner than that.
Source: TechCrunch Photo credit: SpaceX