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SpaceX Hyperloop test track
SpaceX’s Hyperloop test tunnel stretches for a mile next to the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Teams from the University of Washington and more than 20 other universities and colleges around the world are converging on SpaceX’s Southern California headquarters this weekend for the company’s second Hyperloop pod competition.

Like many sequels, this contest could well be more intense than the original.

Hyperloop I, which was conducted in January, scored the contestants on multiple scales, including design and safety ratings. In contrast, Sunday’s Hyperloop II competition will be judged solely on the basis of which team’s pod is the fastest.

UW Hyperloop was a finalist in the first competition but never got the chance to make a full-fledged, low-pressure run down the track inside SpaceX’s 6-foot-wide, mile-long test tunnel, which was erected next to the rocket company’s main campus in Hawthorne, Calif.

Since January, UW Hyperloop has been fine-tuning the design and fabrication of its pod. The contraption basically consists of a battery-powered sled that takes advantage of magnetic levitation, covered by a carbon composite shell that’s painted a Husky shade of purple.

The team has benefited not only from UW engineering expertise, but also from corporate sponsorships, services and consulting.

Also among the two dozen competitors on the list for this weekend’s showdown is the fastest team from the first competition, Germany’s WARR Hyperloop. January’s overall top-rated team, from Delft University in the Netherlands, is sitting out Hyperloop II and focusing on 2018 instead..

The competition was inspired by SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s Hyperloop rapid-transit concept, which envisions sending passengers and cargo on trips of hundreds of miles at near-supersonic speeds through networks of low-pressure tubes.

Musk’s idea, unveiled in 2013, already has spawned two commercial ventures, but neither Musk nor SpaceX is involved in either of them. Instead, Musk is lending his support to the university-level contest – and talking with government officials about building a new generation of underground transit systems that take advantage of the Hyperloop concept.

The competitors in Sunday’s finals won’t come anywhere near supersonic speeds, and the winners won’t receive any substantial cash prizes. But for most of the competitors, the geek fame that comes with doing well – and the opportunity to have face time with Musk and other high-tech heroes – will provide incentive enough.

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