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Successful trial shows supersonic travel in steel tubes is possible (VIDEO)

February 16, 2017 • World News

A group of MIT students last year beat out teams from 115 other universities and 20 countries to earn the Best Overall Design Award for an international competition challenging students to design and build the best Hyperloop, envisioned as the “fifth mode of transportation”.

The MIT Hyperloop pod sits quietly before being pushed up to speed during its big test run.
Image credit: MIT Hyperloop Team (mit.edu)

Hyperloop is a concept dreamed up by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk that involves the delivery of people through a system of tubes maintained in a near-vacuum that connect major cities. The air free tubes dramatically reduce air friction, allowing the pods to travel at close to the speed of sound, using low-energy propulsion systems.

Having won the first round of the SpaceX competition, MIT’s Hyperloop Team then set out to build a functional pod capable of safely shooting through a tunnel at hundreds of miles per hour. The 35-person team worked tirelessly in Cambridge and came up with a design of a small pod for 250 mph, then travelled to California to give it a go.

Their design was one of only three of the 27 competing teams that passed a litany of safety and design tests, earning the right to run their pods on the Hyperloop track. Of these, the Delft University of Technology (Netherlands) team earned the highest score, while the Technical University of Munich (Germany) came in second.

Members of the MIT Hyperloop Team posed with their test pod.
Image credit: MIT Hyperloop Team (mit.edu)

“We proved our design worked. This is an exciting project. And the competition is not a one-time thing,” said team member Yiou He.

Team Captain Max Opgenoord, who is a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said the Team was very pleased to have delivered the very best pod design, which later proved to be both capable of magnetic levitation and imminently scalable on the test run.

“Obviously, we wanted to come in first this weekend — but what we’ve accomplished is in reality worth more than the prizes,” he said.

“We think it technically feasible to build a Hyperloop. You need a lot of political willpower and capital to do it, and that’s not something we’ve investigated — but technically, it is possible to do it. And that is just really cool.”

Speeds of over 700mph are suggested for commuting between cities, taking into account the acceleration and deceleration sensation that passengers would go through, among other things. To that end, it will be exciting to see the outcome of the Hyperloop Pod Competition II at SpaceX this summer, which will be focused on a single criterion: maximum speed.

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