SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition

By Phill Powell

Right now, if you want to travel the 380 miles between California’s two largest cities, it takes about 6 hours by car, assuming no traffic problems. Futurist and entrepreneur Elon Musk wants to cut that time down to a half hour.

A new SpaceX contest challenges participants to design and/or build Hyperloop passenger pods.

Through Musk’s vision of a “Hyperloop” bullet train running between Los Angeles and San Francisco, commuters and cargo would be able to make that lengthy journey in the same amount of time most people need to take a shower and dry their hair.

And now others are getting in on the ground floor, being challenged by Musk’s space exploration company, SpaceX, to come up with the perfect design for the passenger compartments for the projected Hyperloop project that was concepted by Musk himself back in August 2013.

Manhattan Beach Project
Bullet trains have existed for some time and the Hyperloop Musk envisions will use the super-sized power suction of vacuum tubes to create travel speeds approaching 760 mph, or roughly three and a half times the fastest NASCAR speed ever clocked.

The new contest focuses on the passenger pods that would be linked end to end and is open to university students and independent engineering teams who want to take on the challenge.

In June 2016, those teams will converge on a SpaceX test track at its Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters, for a weekend of testing the life-size pods on the track.

Individuals or teams that wish to enter will have two options: to create a design only; or to actually create a design and build a prototype pod. Entries have to be received by 5 pm PDT on September 15, 2015 to be considered.

This concept drawing shows the numerous advantages a Hyperloop system would offer.

The Willy Wonka Railroad?
Elon Musk is a colorful character and not altogether unlike another famed inventor: Willy Wonka. The magical candyman of children’s literature had an air of mystery about him. So it is with Musk, whose moves are also mysterious and newsworthy and sometimes slightly off-center.

For example, on the SpaceX hyperloop contest announcement, there is no mention of how winners will be selected, or even about what they will receive for winning.

Also mysterious is Musk and company’s connection to a Hyperloop project, if there is any at all.

On its website, the company distanced itself from having any commitment to a Hyperloop project: “Neither SpaceX nor Elon Musk is affiliated with any Hyperloop companies. While we are not developing a commercial Hyperloop ourselves, we are interested in helping to accelerate development of a functional Hyperloop prototype.”

It remains to be seen how SpaceX’s wait-and-see position will evolve.

Contest participants will come to SpaceX’s corporate headquarters in June 2016 to test pod designs.

Science Rocketing Forward!
Whichever team comes up with the winning design for the pods will have to consider not only the complex mechanics of magnetic travel, but also the human realities of travel. For example, no concept drawings of a Hyperloop system presently show how restroom facilities will be included for passengers.

The SpaceX contest is a cool way to spur on competitive genius, for technology’s greater good. It’s an incredible time to attend science and engineering tech camps and master skills that you can later apply to a cool and rewarding career.