The latest chapter in SpaceX's Hyperloop pod competition was played out over the weekend, with some of the world's brightest engineering students descending on the company's California headquarters to pit their creations against each another. The third installment of the event placed a emphasis on speed, with teams edging ever closer to the supersonic targets of the Hyperloop system.

The SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition was launched in 2015 as an effort to encourage innovation around the ultra-fast transport concept shared by Elon Musk in 2013. Hundreds of engineering teams entered the first competition in 2016, with the most promising pod designs then built and put through testing on SpaceX's mile-long track in Hawthorne, California.

Several companies are hard at work trying to develop the Hyperloop concept into fully-fledged transport service, with feasibility studies underway all around the world. The basic idea is to shuttle passenger and cargo pods through near-vacuum tubes, with the low-pressure environment enabling magnetically levitated capsules to travel at close to the speed of sound, around 1,200 km/h (750 mph).

The WARR Hyperloop team from the Technical University of Munich took out last year's event with a top speed of 324 km/h (201 mph), a new record for a Hyperloop pod at the time. With 18 teams competing, it successfully defended its title this time around and hit another gear in the process, clocking an official top speed of 466 km/h (290 mph), another record for a Hyperloop pod.

Its latest pod is powered by four dual-motor propulsion modules that together direct 240 kW of power to one wheel, with the shell made from carbon fiber-reinforced composite materials giving it a weight of just 70 kg (154 lb). According to the team, this enables it to accelerate five times faster than an airplane during take-off.

Virgin Hyperloop One managed to hit 387 km/h (240 mph) at a private test track in December last year, which was a speed record at the time. Although the WARR Hyperloop team has outstripped them for now, its prototype pod is just 30 cm high and two meters long (11 x 80 inches), far smaller than Virgin's full-size pod and unlikely to be of practical use in its current form. So it is a bit of an apples and oranges-type scenario.

Rather than a passenger-ready vehicle, WARR sees its pod as a testbed for the technologies that will be vital to the ultimate success of a Hyperloop system. To that end, it has actually built a second pod that didn't run in the competition, but is being used to further explore its advanced levitation and frictionless drive systems.

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