Sunny southern California is considered the cradle of American hot-rod car culture. More than a half-century ago, returning war veterans turned their passion for fuel, machinery and adventure into an inspired automotive movement whose repercussions still echo.
So it’s perhaps fitting that the seeds of what could be a new transportation revolution are being sown in the same soil.
This weekend in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, Calif., 20 teams are competing for bragging rights to having designed the best hyperloop pod.
Hyperloop, for those not up on the sci-fi shuttle, is the name given to a pod-stuffed-in-a-sealed-tube mobility system that was sketched out in a white paper four years ago by SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Since then, a number of companies have sprouted up with an aim to commercialize this tech, including Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.
The gist is that a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which currently takes about 6 hours by car, would be sliced to 30 minutes thanks to a magnetically levitated pod zipping through a sealed tube at up to 600 miles per hour. Think air hockey puck given the slightest nudge.
Musk has expressed no interest in starting a hyperloop company, but he has been eager to promote scientific research into the concept. To that end, he has sponsored a Hyperloop Pod Competition whose finals are now unfolding on the Los Angeles-area campus of SpaceX, where a one-mile tube track is ready to crown the best pod.
Winner takes … it’s hard to say
“What we get if we win isn’t really clear, SpaceX is being really obscure about that, but really for us it’s more about the challenge,” says Tom Lambot, a NASA employee who in his spare time is lead engineer for Team rLoop, an international team whose geeked-out members met on Reddit and communicated via Slack to help design their 5-foot-high by 12-foot-long pod.
“I believe hyperloop will be something, when I don’t know, and what it will look like exactly I don’t know, but there’s a lot of interest in this field,” says Lambot. “Is the next thing more like a Train 2.0, or more like hyperloop itself? We shall see.”
Train 2.0 sounds like something President Trump might support. On the campaign trail, Trump repeated lamented the state of U.S. rail transport while praising the gleaming high-speed bullet trains found in parts of Europe and Asia.
“They have trains that go 300 miles per hour,” the billionaire said in March. “We have trains that go chug … chug … chug.”
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SOURCE: USA Today, Marco della Cava