As we reminded you last week, College Station, Texas played host to the first part of SpaceX’s highly-anticipated Hyperloop Pod Competition over this past weekend, welcoming more than 100 teams of students engineers to Texas A&M University’s Hall of Champions in order to find the best Hyperloop pod designs out there.
The concept of Hyperloop itself, in which passengers and cargo travel in specially-designed pods travelling at high speed through partially-evacuated tubes, has been postulated several times over throughout history. Yet it wasn’t until Elon Musk, CEO of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX put pen to paper and produced the Hyperloop Alpha white paper on it in 2013 that engineers, academics and members of the public alike started to play the idea serious attention.
Now, with the Hyperloop Pod competition process well under way and not one but two commercial entities trying to bring Hyperloop technology to market, the concept of Hyperloop travel has attracted the attention of a far more powerful entity: the U.S. Federal Government in the form of the U.S. Department of Transport.
As ArsTechnica reported yesterday, that interest could one day see hyperloop technology get a much-needed funding injection from the U.S. taxpayer.
Reporting on the 115 teams selected to compete in last weekend’s official SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Design Weekend, ArsTechnica noted that among the spectators, investors and dignitaries attending the event was Antony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Appearing on stage on Friday night on the opening night of the competition, Foxx said he — and the U.S. Department of Transportation — was very interested in the Hyperloop and what it could mean for U.S. travel in the future.
“It’s one thing to have a really cool new idea,” he said. “It’s another thing for that idea to go through the traps required to have that actually used by the mass public. That’s not to say this isn’t an idea that has merit. I’m here. It has merit.”
Recounting his initial reaction to Hyperloop Alpha as “less than enthusiastic,” Foxx explained he first believed the proposal to be impractical.
“Then I began to think, what if there had been a secretary of transportation when the automobile was first build or the airplane invented with that attitude?” he continued. “I feel that we have in our department a responsibility not just to continue the traditional forms of transportation, but a responsibility to nudge the future of transportation along.”
That responsibility, he suggested, could come in the form of the Department of Transport’s University Transportation Centers program, a funding commitment worth $70 million each year specifically designed to help advance new transportation technologies.
“A concept like the Hyperloop is the kind of technology that could run through that program,” Foxx confirmed. “The power of this Hyperloop competition is that it starts to engage other minds in how do we get there from here? Hopefully, we could develop it as a public-private partnership.”
During Saturday’s final judging, the top prize was won by a team from MIT, but a total of 22-different student teams were chosen from the 115 in attendance to go onto the next round of the competition. With help from their own institutions, as well as potentially investment from third-party organizations and commercial entities, they will spend the next six months building and preparing their own pod prototypes for testing on SpaceX’s brand-new mile-long test track this summer.
After that, the winning design could find itself in commercial use, zipping between major cities at speeds of more than 700 miles per hour. That’s assuming of course, that Hyperloop gains enough support and investment from major stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, that is.
Does the Hyperloop concept excite you? Do you think the U.S. Federal Government should invest in this new technology? And how should such an investment be spent?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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