University of Cincinnati
By David Z. Morris
January 28, 2017

Teams from around the world will be spending this weekend racing their prototype Hyperloop pods down a scaled-down test track near SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The competition is part of the continued evolution of an experimental transportation concept, first floated by Elon Musk in 2013, that promises to move people and goods at more than 700 miles an hour, more efficiently than by air and with less infrastructure cost than traditional rail.

The teams, mostly based out of universities, have spent the last week undergoing tests to make sure their pods are safe for use in the high-speed, depressurized, and decidedly experimental test track build by SpaceX. The track is a mile long and roughly half the width of a full-scale Hyperloop system. But its most important feature is the near-total vacuum inside, which, by taking air resistance out of the equation, makes it possible to shoot magnetically-levitated pods through at very high speeds.

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The terms of the competition are simple, as described last year by Musk. The winning team will be the one that hits the highest top speed—then stops before hitting the end of the tube.

“There’ll be a bit of tension,” Musk mused. “Will it brake in time?”

Musk was speaking at an initial competitive design weekend, held precisely a year ago in Texas, that had more than 100 teams pitching pod concepts on paper. The 30 finalists, with MIT and UW-Madison teams among the top finishers, have had the year since to secure funding and get down to actually building their proposed designs.

The race weekend was rescheduled from an initial summer 2016 time slot, at least in part because six months wasn’t enough time for the teams to build.

For more on the Hyperloop, watch our video.

That delay, though, puts this weekend’s competitors in a much different position than they were a year ago. When they first faced off in Texas, the Hyperloop teams were exploring a largely untested, even speculative technology. But the twelve months since has seen a run of successes for the Hyperloop as a commercial endeavor, with startup Hyperloop One hitting technical milestones and securing funding and international partners (despite some internal wobbles).

During last year’s design weekend, the founders of Hyperloop One told Fortune they were excited to be inspired by the young competitors’ ideas, and that’s certainly still part of the motivation for the event. But SpaceX and Hyperloop One also used the initial event to get the attention of talented young engineers, and recruiting will almost certainly be underway again this weekend.

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