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MIT wins SpaceX’s Hyperloop competition, and Elon Musk made a cameo

In the end, Elon Musk couldn't resist showing up to the competition he helped inspire. The billionaire SpaceX CEO made a surprise appearance at the end of the Hyperloop pod design competition at Texas A&M University Saturday, eliciting a rapturous reaction from the thousand-plus audience of high school and college engineers who were there to compete for a chance to test their designs on Musk's personal Hyperloop track later this year.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's team was awarded the top prize, and will now go on to build an actual pod to race on the under-construction track near SpaceX's Hawthorne, Calif. headquarters. The Delft University of Technology from the Netherlands were the next runners-up. Auburn University won in the category of best overall subsystem. Twenty-two teams in all will go on to test their pods in Hawthorne, although up to 10 other teams could also qualify after further judging in the coming weeks, according to SpaceX.

"The public wants something new"

Dozens of other winners in propulsion, design, levitation, and braking were also announced at the end of the two-day competition, which also featured technology demonstrations like Arx Pax's hover engine, and a speech by US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The event was meant to generate excitement among engineers and the public for the tube-based, transonic, vacuum transport system popularized by the billionaire Musk in 2013. But it was also meant to serve as a rebuttal to skeptics who dismissed the Hyperloop as too fanciful, impractical, and expensive to exist in the real world.

"The public wants something new," Musk told the attendees. "And you're going to give it to them."

Hyperloop

Musk first unveiled plans for "a fifth mode of transportation" in August 2013 in a white paper published on the SpaceX website. Under the plans, the Hyperloop would transport passengers in aluminum pods traveling as fast as 760 mph, mostly following the route of California's I-5. The estimated cost would be $6 billion for the passenger-only model, or $7.5 billion for a larger model capable of transporting freight.

"A fifth mode of transportation"

For almost 30 minutes, Musk took questions from the audience on everything from what inspired him to create the Hyperloop idea (being stuck in LA traffic), what advice he had for the winning teams (lots of dry runs), and what "crazy idea" he is working on next (electric jets — Musk says he thinks he's close to something, but said precious little about how they'd work).

It was an exciting conclusion to the competition, but according to Musk, it won't be the last. The SpaceX executive promised that to host more competitions for the Hyperloop in the future. He said he was impressed by the enthusiasm generated from this weekend's event, and was committed to seeing the Hyperloop become a reality. (Although that doesn't mean backing any of the Hyperloop companies currently in operation, he said. Not yet.)

"I really like the idea that you could live in one city, work in another city, and move fast enough that you could actually do that," he said. "It would free people up."

Here's a full list of the winners, as provided by Texas A&M University:

Best Overall Design Award: MIT Hyperloop Team, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Pod Innovation Award: Delft Hyperloop, Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands)
Pod Technical Excellence Award: Badgerloop, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Pod Technical Excellence Award: Hyperloop at Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech
Pod Technical Excellence Award: HyperXite, University of California Irvine

Over teams advancing include:

rLoop (non-student team)
uWaterloo Hyperloop, University of Waterloo
UWashington Hyperloop, University of Washington
University of Toronto, University of Toronto
RUMD Loop, University of Maryland and Rutgers University
GatorLoop, University of Florida
Team HyperLynx, University of Colorado Denver
Hyperloop UC, University of Cincinnati
USCB Hyperloop, University of California-Santa Barbara
bLoop, University of California-Berkeley
TAMU Aerospace Hyperloop, Texas A&M
WARR Hyperloop, Technical University of Munich (Germany)
Purdue Hyperloop Design Team, Purdue University
Codex, Oral Roberts University
Lehigh Hyperloop, Lehigh University
Keio Alpha, Keio University
Drexel Hyperloop, Drexel University
Carnegie Mellon Hyperloop, Carnegie-Mellon University


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