If he wasn’t already, Elon Musk is rapidly becoming the rock star of all technology addicts. You might think that spending tons of his personal fortune to found electrical car company Tesla and aerospace company SpaceX would be enough, but Musk wouldn’t be Musk if he wasn’t always working on something new and exciting.

Back in 2013 he published a 57-page long white paper with the proposal of Hyperloop Alpha, a futuristic transport system that should bring people in no time from LA to San Fransisco at a speed of 700 miles per hour (more than 1100 km/h). He later admitted that it was the terrible LA traffic that brought him to think about a revolutionary new way of transportation.

The white-paper was not a business proposal, Musk rather threw the idea in the tech community in the hope someone would start doing something with it. Despite the fact that many people were quite skeptical about the idea, two start-ups have started to work on their own version of the Hyperloop.

Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment. — Elon Musk

This is more or less the idea. The Hyperloop is a new high-speed ground transport system that consists of a tube on (earthquake resistant) pylons that connects two major cities. A pod is racing at a speed of more than 700 miles per hour through the tube, reducing the duration of a trip from for example LA to San Fransisco to just 30 minutes. In order to reach such high speeds, the tube would be at under-pressure to reduce friction with the air. The pod would be floating on an air cushion and be accelerated by magnetic induction. The whole system is supposed to be driven by solar panels on the top of the tube. Pretty neat, huh?

With a price tag of 6 billion dollars, the system would be cheaper than the high speed train that is currently being built on the track Musk had in mind in his original proposal.

Elon Musk's original Hyperloop Alpha proposal in 2013

Elon Musk’s original Hyperloop Alpha proposal in 2013 (photo: Elon Musk)

The whole idea remained a bit under the radar of the larger public, until SpaceX announced a Hyperloop pod design competition for students last summer. The reaction was huge. Within one week, no less than 700 entries were submitted and this number grew to 1 751 by the time the registration closed the 15th of September.

A few weeks ago, 123 selected teams got the chance to present their designs at Texas A&M University. The stakes were high: the best implementations won a test ride of their pod on the (still under-construction) test track near the SpaceX’s headquarters. MIT ran away with the first price, a team from TU Delft in the Netherlands were next runner-up. In total twenty-two teams are awarded a test trip next summer to try-out their design.

With this competition the Hyperloop comes a bit closer to reality. “The public wants something new,” Musk told the participants at the end of the competition. “And you’re going to give it to them.”

Will we be travelling in from Amsterdam to Paris in no time soon? Well, probably not. The competition is in the first place an opportunity for engineering students to show off what they got and stimulate the discussion on future transportation. Musk didn’t promise to invest in one of the ideas, although he hinted that it was not unlikely to happen in the future. “There are a lot of crazy ideas out there, but when ideas are associated with someone like Elon Musk it feels like, OK, this is something,” told Anshuman Kumar, leader of the Hyperloop team at Carnegie Mellon University to Bloomberg. So who knows… Elon Musk never stops surprising us. And this time he has the next generation of engineers on board!