This Jan. 19, 2017 staff file photo shows the inside of the SpaceX hyperloop test track along Jack Northrop Drive in Hawthorne. Test pods will shoot down the tube, which is a small version of a proposed high speed long distance model. (Photo by Brad Graverson, Torrance Daily Breeze/SCNG)
By SANDY MAZZA | Southern California News Group
PUBLISHED: January 27, 2017 at 11:01 am | UPDATED: January 27, 2017 at 11:03 am
Space visionary Elon Musk turns his gaze back to Earth this weekend as 30 engineering teams from around the world gather in the South Bay to bring a dose of reality to his futuristic ground transportation concept known as Hyperloop.
A white three-quarter-mile enclosed tube along a Hawthorne street, near Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla plants, will be the focus of a competition in which the teams will test pod vehicles propelled inside a vacuum chamber.This Jan. 19, 2017 staff file photo shows the SpaceX hyperloop test track along Jack Northrop Drive in Hawthorne. (Photo by Brad Graverson, Torrance Daily Breeze/SCNG
Musk introduced the transportation system in a 58-page white paper in 2013, suggesting that a Hyperloop could ferry pods full of passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco at speeds up to 700 mph in just 30 minutes.
While founder of SpaceX and Tesla decided not to start his own Hyperloop business, he encouraged others to do so — and several businesses are already planning to build Hyperloops overseas.
Instead, Musk offered to host this student competition Friday through Sunday and open-source all the development work to help hasten commercial production of the new mass-transportation method. He chose to host the competition near his home base in Hawthorne, where for a year now the Hyperloop tube has been a fixture along one lane of Jack Northrop Avenue on the south side of Hawthorne Municipal Airport.
Held in place by concrete stands, the tube bears the SpaceX logo. Traffic barriers buffer it from passing vehicles.
“We are interested in promoting (Hyperloop) as a student venture, not commercial,” SpaceX community outreach manager Lilian Haney said. “We have 1,000-plus students coming for the competitions, and they’re excited about coming to Hawthorne.
“Pods will be displayed in a street-fair style,” Haney said. “There will be food trucks and presentations. Timing will be flexible because this is the first time it’s ever been done.”
Races will be interspersed throughout the weekend, with two winners announced late Sunday afternoon. The fastest team will win, along with a second team that judges determine developed the best design.
All but two of the participating teams are affiliated with universities, including USC, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara. Other teams hail from such places as Maryland, New York, Colorado, Oklahoma, Virginia, Japan, Spain, Canada, India, and the Netherlands. The nonuniversity teams are a group from a Texas high school and a team of individuals organized from around the world through Reddit.com.
Finalists were chosen based on their design concepts from a field of 1,200 initial applicants.
USC’s Hyperloop team underwent a redesign of its pod in September, according to the team’s website.
“We originally were using air levitation on our pod with a series of air casters providing a cushion of air on which the pod could effectively float,” the team’s blog states. “As a new semester started and new members with fresh insight joined the team, the design changed to one with wheels instead. Our goal is to traverse the test track as fast as possible, as safe as possible, in a semi-autonomous electric vehicle.”
All of the teams’ work will be open-sourced, per Musk’s directive, to help push the commercial development of such projects.
“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,” a SpaceX statement reads.
In his 2013 paper, Musk analyzed the larger issues involved with the Hyperloop concept, such as the impact on the human body of traveling at supersonic speeds and the pros and cons of various propulsion methods.
“Both for trip comfort and safety, it would be best to travel at high subsonic speeds for a 350-mile journey,” Musk wrote in the paper. “For much longer journeys, such as L.A. to N.Y., it would be worth exploring super high speeds, and this is probably technically feasible, but I believe the economics would probably favor a supersonic plane.”
Traveling at thousands of miles per hour would be painful for travelers around turns and when speeds change dramatically, the paper states.
“The key advantages of a tube vs. a railway track are that it can be built above the ground on pylons and it can be built in prefabricated sections that are dropped in place and joined with an orbital seam welder,” wrote Musk.
Since introducing the idea, several commercial companies have taken up the call. It seems most likely that the world’s first commercial Hyperloop will be built overseas.
In November, Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One announced the signing of a deal to build a Hyperloop connecting Dubai with the greater United Arab Emirates by 2020.
“Imagine cutting the time it takes to go from Dubai to Abu Dhabi from 90 minutes to 12 minutes, or Dubai to Riyadh in 48 minutes, or connecting Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum Airport with a six-minute trip by Hyperloop, forming a single global transport hub,” Hyperloop One said in a company statement.