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Hyperloop Tech joins SpaceX in sponsoring pod design competition

The winners will get $50,000 and an internship

Hyperloop Technologies Inc. (HTI), one of the two Los Angeles-based startups working to build a futuristic transportation system, announced today that it would join Elon Musk's SpaceX in sponsoring the Hyperloop pod design competition later this month. The company also said it would kick in $150,000 for the winning prizes.

At the end of January, over 1,000 high school and college students will descend on Texas A&M University to present their designs for a Hyperloop pod, which according to Musk's vision would travel up to 760 mph through an elevated, frictionless tube connecting cities. Josh Giegel, VP for design and analysis at Hyperloop Tech, said his company was sponsoring the event to identify the next generation in engineering talent interested in making the Hyperloop a reality.

"The brightest minds of tomorrow working on the future of transportation."

"Having the brightest minds of tomorrow working on the future of transportation at this design weekend is a great way to ensure the long-term success of Hyperloop," Giegel said in a blog post. "I know from my time as fresh-faced, bushy-tailed engineering student, these competitions really teach you how to be a practical engineer — how to use the concepts taught in class in the real world."

But the "real world" is the Hyperloop's biggest obstacle at the moment. Hyperloop Tech, as well as the other (similarly named) startup Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), face a host of obstacles — getting land rights, finding funding, convincing lawmakers to allow them to send human beings through a long, plastic tube at twice the speed of sound — to building a working version of the sci-fi-sounding transit network. Both companies are racing to build a working prototype by the end of the year. The hope is that a successful test would trigger a wave of positive attention and cash from investors, which could help build a sense of inevitability around the Hyperloop.

HTI will kick in $150,000 for prize money, meaning the winning design team will receive $50,000, and each runner-up $20,000, to go toward the construction of their pod. The winners will also get to intern at HTI. And that's in addition to the other winning prize which was announced last month: a chance to "build and test their design prototype at the world's first Hyperloop Test Track being built by SpaceX adjacent to its headquarters in Hawthorne, California," according to SpaceX.

HTT is not mentioned in the announcement, nor is it likely to be after that company's chief executive referred to the design competition as "a distraction."

UPDATED January 15th, 2:53PM ET: Dirk Ahlborn, the chief executive of HTT, responded to an email seeking comment. He said, despite his "distraction" comment, that his company would be "supporting" several of the teams in the design competition.

"We are absolutely supportive. It's an open source competition which is exactly the [basis] of our approach," Ahlborn said. "We obviously do not participate as competitors but we are supporting many of the teams and are establishing a Hyperloop Academy for them to help out in certain subject areas."