The hyperloop came one step closer to reality on Sunday, as three teams sent their prototype pods down test tube at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, the first time pods have ever traveled through the depressurized tube envisioned by Elon Musk in a 2013 white paper.
Although there were 30 teams invited to the weeklong competition, only three teams made it through various stages of review for the final tests on Sunday. The three teams were:
- Delft, of the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands
- MIT Hyperloop, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- WARR, of the Technical University of Munich, Germany.
The results were impressive. Although WARR went home with the fastest pod award, exceeding speeds of 90 kilometers an hour, Delft went home with the highest overall score and the construction awards.
The vacuum-sealed point-to-point transportation system can theoretically reach up to 700 mph. The six-foot test tube was 4,150 feet (.78 of a mile) long and is about half the size of a full-scale model, SpaceX engineers said.
The SpaceX-hosted competition was first announced in 2015, and within a week it had 1,700 entries. Eventually, 125 teams competed in January 2016 at a Texas A&M design competition. Sunday was the first of two competitions — there’s another planned for this summer — where teams that are primarily from universities (although there was one high school team and one comprised of a group of redditors) test their pod prototypes in an actual tube.
“This is actually the first functioning Hyperloop track, so it’s really exciting,” Flow Li, senior engineer at SpaceX, said.
So how did the pods move through the tube? Most used magnetic levitation, but a few used wheels, and a few used air bearings and a compressor with an electric motor.
There were a number of awards given out to teams for other feats of accomplishment. MIT’s team won the award for safety and reliability, which took into account braking, tube pressurization faults, and power loss contingencies. The award for best performance and operations, meanwhile, went to the University of Maryland. The innovation award went to rLoop, the team from Reddit.
For a team to be given a test-run in the tube, they have to accomplish ten “check-outs” of their pods. One of these was a safety check that involves full functional checks in a 25-foot vacuum, before going into an outdoor track to prove the pod can fit on the track and low-speed braking and levitation. The SpaceX judges also reviewed structural integrity, sensor drift, and software integration checks.
“Ultimately, they are testing a scaled version of the final hyperloop design,” said John Federspiel, lead mechanical engineer at SpaceX.
Watch the pods in action here: