Hyperloop just took a huge step to becoming the transport system of the future. WARR Hyperloop claimed the top prize at SpaceX’s third hyperloop competition on Sunday, beating out two other approved teams to record a final speed of 290 mph — even faster than the 240 mph record set by Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hyperloop One in December 2017.
“We’d like to sincerely thank all our sponsors!” the student-based team from the Technical University of Munich wrote on its website after the competition. “This journey wouldn’t have been possible without you!”
The competition, held at SpaceX’s 0.8-mile test track in Hawthorne, California, saw 18 teams compete to accelerate and brake their pod while achieving maximum top speed. Rigorous safety checks meant only three teams sent their pods through the test tube: WARR, Delft Hyperloop (which came second with a top speed of 88 mph), and EPFL Hyperloop (which came third with a top speed of 53 mph).
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, whose 2013 white paper first outlined the vacuum-sealed transit system, congratulated the teams on his victory. The Verge reports that Musk attended with girlfriend Grimes and his five sons, declaring that the competition was about “things that could radically transform cities and the way people get around.” Musk’s podium was constructed from interlocking bricks made from The Boring Company’s excavated tunnel dirt — a company aiming to build a public hyperloop running between New York City and Washington, D.C.
This competition was a marked change from the competitions held in January 2017 and August 2017, where contestants were judged on a range of criteria including construction and teams were able to use SpaceX-built drives to launch their pods. WARR set the top speed in the first competition of 56 mph, but lost out the overall prize to Delft Hyperloop. The second competition saw a big improvement over the first, with WARR claiming the top prize and reaching a speed of 201 mph.
The 176-pound pod used in the second competition used a carbon fiber construction with a 50-kilowatt electric motor to reach a potential top speed of 224 mph, with 36 internal sensors to regulate travel. For the third competition, WARR built on this design by replacing the 50-kilowatt single motor with eight smaller motors to individually drive each wheel. The total performance jumped to 240 kilowatts, or approximately 320 horsepower. The new version also measures less than seven feet in length and less than a foot high, making it shorter than its predecessor. The team calculated that this new design could reach a top speed of up to 370 mph.
While these speeds seem a far cry from the 700 mph top speeds in the white paper, both WARR and Delft noted prior to the competition that the participants are limited by the length of the track. The latter team told Inverse last week that the hyperloop could comfortably reach its top speed over a distance of around 45 miles, gradually accelerating to maintain passenger comfort. WARR claims that the team’s pod accelerates along the test track five times faster than an airplane during takeoff.
Delft Hyperloop claimed prior to the competition that it could beat Virgin Hyperloop One to achieve the top speed, despite only starting work as a reformed team in September 2017 after most of the original team left to form a startup called Hardt Hyperloop. Nonetheless, the 37-strong team celebrated its second place victory with a group photo:
EPFL Hyperloop reacted positively to the third-place victory, having never competed in a hyperloop competition before. The team claims that a communications issue prevented the pod from reaching higher speeds.
“Being one of three teams to qualify for the final stage of the competition is an incredible performance,” Martin Vetterli, president of the team’s university of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, said in a statement at the end of the race. “The stakes were high, and the students pushed the equipment to its limits. We can be proud of these results – especially since this was our school’s first foray into such a high-profile international competition. Great job by a fantastic team!”
Alongside the winning pod design, WARR also produced a second prototype to further development of alternative systems like levitation and frictionless drive. These efforts are aimed at helping to develop a pod capable of supporting larger passenger compartments. The Verge reports that SpaceX awarded WARR a special innovation prize for these extra efforts, alongside prizes awarded to the University of Washington and Eirloop teams.
“The technology is still in the development phase and our prototypes are built with the initial objective of testing various technologies,” team leader Gabriele Semino said in a statement prior to the event. “However, this way we can contribute to making the hyperloop vision a reality one day.”