The hyperloop, Elon Musk’s futuristic, tube-based “fifth mode of transportation” has stoked imaginations unlike any recent transportation technology except for maybe self driving cars.
Lots has been said about it—Musk called it a “cross between a Concord, a railgun, and an air hockey table,” while the media has latched on to the promised speeds of more than 700 mph and travel times between San Francisco and Los Angeles of 35 minutes.
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But much of the promise of the hyperloop still remains theoretical. That changed in a small way last weekend, when SpaceX hosted the first part of its “Hyperloop Pod Design Challenge,” a contest that asks 180 university teams to design the capsules that will actually go inside the hyperloop. In June, 22 of the teams will test their pods in a track being built by SpaceX. I traveled to Texas A&M University to meet the teams, meet the companies actually building the hyperloop, and to separate out the hype from what’s actually happening.