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Washington Hyperloop team
The University of Washington’s Hyperloop team monitors the pod race competition at the test track site in Hawthorne, Calif. (Hyperloop Photo via Twitter)

Germany’s WARR Hyperloop team made it to the winner’s circle again today in the latest running of Elon Musk’s university-level Hyperloop competition, but when it comes to U.S. pod racers, the University of Washington is tops.

WARR’s Hyperloop pod registered a world-record top speed of 290 mph in its final run through the mile-long enclosed test track at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

That’s higher than the top speed that WARR reached during last August’s Hyperloop contest (201 mph), as well as the speed reported for Virgin Hyperloop One’s test pod last December (240 mph). WARR also posted the top speed in the first round of Hyperloop pod races, conducted in January 2017.

“Very impressive,” Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, told the WARR team after today’s record-breaking run.

Dutch-based Delft Hyperloop was the runner-up in the finals with a top speed of 88 mph, and Switzerland’s EPFLoop team was No. 3 with 53 mph.

Although Washington Hyperloop didn’t make it to the three-team finals, the UW team’s leaders said they had an “amazing competition experience” over the past week.

“We finished in the final four, and #1 in the U.S.,” they said in a text message exchange with GeekWire. “After a week of insanely hard work, we powered through the testing stages and managed to get some open-air runs in the tube.”

UW’s team also came in for some face time with Musk, who first laid out the Hyperloop rapid-transit concept in 2013.

Elon Musk with Washington Hyperloop
SpaceX/Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Washington Hyperloop team member Mitchell Frimodt check out the UW team’s racing pod at the Hyperloop competition. (Washington Hyperloop via Twitter)

Musk’s original idea called for shooting streamlined pods at near-supersonic speeds through low-pressure tubes. Such a transit system could get passengers and cargo from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about a half-hour, or from Seattle to Portland in 15 minutes.

The idea has been embellished since then — to envision city-scale, subway-style “Loops” that send conveyances known as skates through underground tunnels, as well as the higher-speed, intercity Hyperloops.

One of Musk’s ventures, the Boring Company, is doing preliminary work on Loop projects in Los Angeles, Chicago and in the Baltimore-D.C. corridor. Meanwhile, Virgin Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies are among other ventures looking into large-scale Hyperloop projects.

Musk’s Hyperloop pod competition, which reaches its climax at the test track set up next to SpaceX’s Hawthorne headquarters, is aimed at encouraging students to work on Hyperloop-style engineering projects.

“It’s great to see the progress from year to year. … It kinda blows my mind how good you guys are at creating these pods,” Musk told the contestants today.

The competition involves rounds of design analysis and safety checks, leading up to open-air runs through the tube, and then to a series of depressurized runs for the three top finalists.

Eighteen teams from around the world converged on Hawthorne for the past week’s Hyperloop competition. In his remarks to the crowd, Musk said the work being done by the student teams will contribute to a “radical improvement” in transportation technology.

“There are so many things in the world that get most people to be depressed about the future, so pessimistic,” Musk told the teams. “What you’re doing here is one of those things that make people excited about the future. Those things are rare. … It actually energizes me about the future, that you guys are excited about doing this.”

After the competition ended, Musk said the next round of pod races could well take place on a longer track in an underground tunnel. That’s exactly the kind of tunnel the Boring Company aims to build beneath L.A.

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