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Elon Musk’s hyperloop contest offered a 'fast' look at how tube and pod travel will actually work


At this weekend's SpaceX Hyperloop pod competition, speed got top billing. But the full spirit of the event was about general innovation for the futuristic transportation technology.

"What this is really all about is advancing the state of transportation, trying new things that have never been done before," Elon Musk said while addressing teams and media at the Hawthorne, California event.

Since not even Elon Musk, the man who developed the idea for the hyperloop, quite knows yet how exactly to build it, student teams from around the world were invited to come showcase their unique prototypes pods.

WARR hyperloop pod
The pods at the competition were all built at smaller scales than the size that the real hyperloop is expected to be. The WARR pod, being held here by two team members, was one of the smallest at this year's competition.

On display were different shapes and sizes of pods, and very importantly, different suspension methods, or the technology of choice for how different pods will cruise through the hyperloop.

The pod from the Texas Guadaloop team uses air bearings to glide, while the Badgerloop pod from the University of Wisconsin is equipped with special wheels. Some others, like the Hornet Hyperloop pod built by Sacramento State students, uses magnets to levitate.

Paradigm Hyperloop levitation test

A good method of suspension or levitation is about the most important part of making a successful hyperloop pod, engineers at the event told Circa. The hyperloop tubes of the future are expected to have built-in propulsion that will give the pod a periodic push, but most of the ride will be energy efficient coasting.

"The idea of accelerating once and then coasting ... most of the time, that's new," said Lars Frolich, a member of the Technical University of Munich WARR Hyperloop team.

SpaceX hyperloop track
The SpaceX hyperloop test track is partially vacuum-sealed. Removing air (resistance) from the tube allows pods to coast at higher speeds for longer stretches of time.

To test these pods, SpaceX built its own mile-long hyperloop tube. The weekend’s top teams were given a chance to race down the (partially) vacuum-sealed track, with the high honor of fastest pod going to the WARR team.

WARR hyperloop contest run (8/27/17)

When Musk open-sourced the plans for the hyperloop in 2013, he outlined that the system would travel at over 700 miles per hour. Though companies like Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies have taken on the project, only limited tests of roughly quarter-speed prototypes have been conducted.

So at the second installment of the SpaceX hyperloop contest, Musk called in a cavalry of college-aged imagineers to tinker away at solving the problems of efficient, high-speed transportation – in hopes that it will help get some real pods in motion sooner.

The technology behind your half-hour, NY-to-DC ride has to start somewhere.

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