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Members of UW’s Hyperloop team are ready for the pod races. On the left side of the pod track, from front to back, are David Coven, CJ Grijalva, Max Pfeiffer and Jasdip Singh. On the right, from front to back: Ted Coleman, Luke Marcoe, Nicole Lambert and Isaac Perrin. (UWashington Hyperloop Photo)

The University of Washington’s Hyperloop team is getting ready to compete in a set of pod races aimed at blazing a trail for a new means of near-supersonic travel – but they need a little help to get to the starting line in California.

This week, team members kicked off a crowdfunding campaign on UW’s Useed online platform to raise $20,000 for their quest.

“it’s paramount for our current and future success,” Luke Marcoe, the team’s marketing and public relations lead, told GeekWire in an email.

The campaign already has gotten into high gear: More than $10,000 was raised on the first day, thanks to contributions from just two donors.

Even before this week, the student-led engineering project benefited from the expertise and material contributions from more than a dozen sponsors and advisers. Marcoe figures those donations have amounted to about $20,000 so far.

“We are one of the cheapest teams – not ‘cheap,’ but frugal,” he told GeekWire during a meet-up at the Hyperloop team’s lair at UW’s Eastlake Lab.

UW’s team is due to compete with more than 20 others at a mile-long Hyperloop test track, built beside SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. The Jan. 27-29 pod races are the culmination of an effort inspired by SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, who came up with the Hyperloop concept three and a half years ago.

The idea is to create a network of vacuum-sealed tubes through which magnetically levitating pods can travel at near the speed of sound (760 mph). Such a system could get passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a half-hour – or from Seattle to Portland in 15 minutes.

A couple of commercial ventures are already working on Hyperloop transit systems in NevadaDubai and other locales. One of them, Hyperloop One, is a sponsor of the UW team. But for now, Musk is staying out of the commercial fray and supporting the student competition instead.

UW engineering student David Coven, the team’s business management lead, said he latched onto the Hyperloop contest soon after it was announced.

“It’s something that’s never been done,” Coven explained. “Being on the ground floor of a next-generation technology in transportation gives me a lot of hope and excitement about being a part of what the future of transportation will look like.”

Dozens of students joined the team and submitted their design in an initial round of the contest a year ago. The judges selected UW’s entry to go forward to the construction stage and take part in this month’s finals. They also gave the design’s safety subsystem a special award for technical excellence.

Since then, the students have been putting in long hours building, testing and fine-tuning the components for their pod. Now they’re down to the wire. The final tasks include integrating the magnet-equipped undercarriage with a carbon composite shell and getting the completed pod down to California.

For the university-level races at SpaceX, the pods will be one-quarter-scale and are expected travel through the tube track at around 100 mph. The winners will be determined not only on the basis of speed, but also based on quality of construction, safety and other factors.

The students have given fanciful names to the components they’re building. One test article, used to simulate the pod’s passage through SpaceX’s track, is called the Stallion. A spinning disk that tests the pod’s braking system is nicknamed the Meat Slicer, while the undercarriage is known as the Heifer.

The team is toying with the idea of calling their racer the “Dawgpod,” but they’re also reserving some naming rights for the top donor in the Useed crowdfunding campaign. If the support keeps coming in, UWashington Hyperloop plans to go on to SpaceX’s second competition this summer, in which speed is everything.

Coven, Marcoe and their teammates can’t predict whether they’ll be involved in building a Seattle-to-Portland Hyperloop someday, but they say at least one thing is clear: The pod races are already speeding up their progress toward future careers.

“We’ve gotten real-world work experience – a lot of stuff that you don’t learn in the classroom,” Marcoe said. “How to network, how do you establish relationships, how to maintain those relationships, and so forth. It’s been a great experience for everyone, whether you’re an engineer, or on the business team, or doing PR. We’re not really a club. I see us as a startup.”

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