Sunday, 21 July 2019

Team TUM wins SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition with record 288 mph top speed

Team TUM wins SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition with record 288 mph top speed

Team TUM wins SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition with record 288 mph top speed

SpaceX hosted its fourth annual SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition finals on Sunday at the test tube it built outside its Hawthorne HQ. We were on site for the competition, and watched as Team TUM, from the Technical University of Munich, took home the win thanks to achieving the top speed overall of any team to run in the finals.

TUM (formerly known as team WARR Hyperloop in past competitions) is a repeat winner, and achieved a top speed of 288 mph in this year’s finals. That’s the fastest overall for a Hyperloop pod thus far – it beat its own record from last year of 284 mph set during the third SpaceX student run-off. It wasn’t without incident, however – near the end of its run, there was a spark and some debris appeared to fly off the craft, but it still survived the run mostly intact and satisfied SpaceX judges to qualify for the win.

TUM beat out three other finalist competitors, including Delft Hyperloop, EPFL Hyperloop, and Swissloop. Delft unfortunately had a communication error that cut their run short at just around 650 feet into the just over 3/4 mile SpaceX Hyperloop test track. EPFL managed a top speed of 148 mph and Swissloop topped out at 160 mph.

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SpaceX Hyperloop Pod test track at its Hawthorne HQ. This is the end where student teams load in their test pod during the annual competition.

For the teams that did get to run on Sunday, the process involved loading their pod, which are roughly the size of bobsleds but little more than engines on wheels, onto the single track which runs the length of the interior of the Hyperloop test tube. The tube is then sealed and de-pressurized to near vacuum, which is essentially how Musk’s original Hyperloop concept envisioned the super-speed transportation method would work.

All the teams gave a good showing, and the total number of student teams was actually 21, with over 700 individual sin total taking part in the competition from a variety of schools including Cal Poly, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Indian Institute of Technology and my own alma mater the University of Windsor (who worked with St. Clair College on their pod).

Teams had to prove to their SpaceX and Boring Company staff advisors that they were ready to run in the tube in order to qualify for the finals, and spent two weeks prior to the finals on Sunday trying to do just that. Of those 21 teams, only the four finalists managed to get the green light to run in the final competition, based on advisor criteria that includes safety and survivability of their pod design. There’s a kind of ‘good luck’ mantra at the competition of saying ‘Break a pod’ prior to a run, but SpaceX engineers don’t actually want team pods to experience catastrophic failure inside the tube while on a run. This year, the competition was even more challenging because all pods have to use their own communication systems for the first time, and the pods must be designed to propel themselves to within 100 feet of the far end of the tube before they stop.

hyperloop pod competition 2019

21 teams in total competed in this year’s competition, and they all brought their pods to display on race day, even though only four finalists actually ran their pods through the test track.

Most of the teams I spoke to who failed to qualify were dismayed but also resolute on coming back and qualifying next year. Some did express a bit of frustration about the gap between some of the teams from smaller schools, and those in the final four (who do qualify repeatedly year after year). Many of the finalists have deep-pocketed corporate backers, including Airbus, while some of the smaller schools have next to no funding – resulting in a cost delta of hundreds of thousands of dollars when it comes to the total bill for the test pods built.

That said, all the teams are clearly thrilled to be able to participate, and see the competition as a chance to essentially get scored to work at one of Musk’s many high tech ventures, including SpaceX, Tesla and The Boring Company. For those companies, too, it seems like a no-brainer to attempt to recruit from the engineering ranks of these best-in-class technical undergrad and graduate students.

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EPFL Hyperloop didn’t win the competition – but they have reason to celebrate, since at least some graduates will probably ‘win’ jobs at Musk’s various companies.

“I think the competition is fun, and inspiring and also useful technology comes out of it,” Musk said regarding the purpose of the event, before answering a final question from Boring Company President Steve Davis about whether or not there will be another competition next year – “Oh yeah of course,” Musk replied, to much applause from the crowd of competitors.

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Cities must plan ahead for innovation without leaving people behind

Cities must plan ahead for innovation without leaving people behind

Cities must plan ahead for innovation without leaving people behind

From Toronto to Tokyo, the challenges faced by cities today are often remarkably similar: climate change, rising housing costs, traffic, economic polarization, unemployment. To tackle these problems, new technology companies and industries have been sprouting and scaling up with innovative digital solutions like ride sharing and home sharing. Without a doubt, the city of the future must be digital. It must be smart. It must work for everyone.

This is a trend civic leaders everywhere need to embrace wholeheartedly. But building a truly operational smart city is going to take a village, and then some. It won’t happen overnight, but progress is already under way.

As tech broadens its urban footprint, there will be more and more potential for conflict between innovation and citizen priorities like privacy and inclusive growth. Last month, we were reminded of that in Toronto, where planning authorities from three levels of government released a 1,500-page plan by Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs meant to pave the way for a futuristic waterfront development. Months in the making, the plan met with considerably less than universal acclaim.

But whether it’s with Sidewalk or other tech partners, the imperative to resolve these conflicts becomes even stronger for cities like Toronto. If they’re playing this game to win, civic leaders need to minimize the damage and maximize the benefits for the people they represent. They need to develop co-ordinated innovation plans that prioritize transparency, public engagement, data privacy and collaboration.


The Sidewalk Labs plan is full of tech-forward proposals for new transit, green buildings and affordable housing, optimized by sensors, algorithms and mountains of data. But even the best intentions of a business or a city can be misconstrued when leaders fail to be transparent about their plans. Openness and engagement are critical for building legitimacy and social license.

Sidewalk says it consulted 21,000 Toronto citizens while developing its proposal. But some critics have already complained that the big decisions were made behind closed doors, with too many public platitudes and not enough debate about issues raised by citizens, city staff and the region’s already thriving innovation ecosystem.

In defense of Sidewalk Labs and Alphabet, their roots are in Internet services. They are relative newcomers to the give and take of community consultation. But they are definitely now hearing how citizens would prefer to be engaged and consulted.

As for the public planners, they have a number of excellent examples to draw from. In Barcelona, for example, the city government opened up its data sets to citizens to encourage shared use among private, public and academic sectors. And in Pittsburgh, which has become a hub for the testing of autonomous vehicles, the city provided open forum opportunities for the public to raise questions, concerns and issues directly with civic decision-makers.

Other forward-looking cities, such as San Francisco, Singapore, Helsinki and Glasgow, are already using digital technology and smart sensors to build futuristic urban services that can serve as real-world case studies for Toronto and others. However, to achieve true success, city officials need to earn residents’ trust and confidence that they are following and adapting best practices.

Toronto skyline courtesy of Shutterstock/Niloo

Data privacy

Access to shared data is crucial to informing and improving tech-enabled urban innovation. But it could also fuel a technologically driven move toward surveillance capitalism or a surveillance state – profiteering or big brother instead of trust and security.

The Sidewalk proposal respects the principles of responsible use of data and artificial intelligence. It outlines principles for guiding the smart-city project’s ethical handling of citizen data and secure use of emerging technologies like facial recognition. But these principles aren’t yet accompanied by clear, enforceable standards.

Members of the MaRS Discovery District recently co-authored an open-source report with fellow design and data governance experts, outlining how privacy conflicts could be addressed by an ethical digital trust. A digital trust ought to be transparently governed by independent, representative third-party trustees. Its trustees should be mandated to make data-use decisions in the public interest: how data could be gathered, how anonymity could be ensured, how requests for use should be dealt with.

They come with big questions to be resolved. But if a digital trust were developed for the Sidewalk project, it could be adapted and reused in other cities around the world, as civic leaders everywhere grapple with innovation plans of their own.

PCs on a grid in front of a city skyline.

Image courtesy of Getty Images/Colin Anderson


The private sector creates jobs and economic growth. Academia and education offers ideas, research and a sustainable flow of tech-savvy workers. The public sector provide policy guidance and accountability. Non-profits mobilize public awareness and surplus capital.

As Toronto is learning, it isn’t always easy to get buy-in, because every player in every sector has its own priorities. But civic leaders should be trying to pull all these innovation levers to overcome urban challenges, because when the mission is right, collaboration creates more than the sum of its parts.

One civic example we like to point to is New York, where the development of the High Line park and the rezoning of the West Chelsea Special District created a “halo effect.” A $260-million investment increased property values, boosted city tax revenues by $900-million and brought four million tourists per year to a formerly underused neighborhood.

A mission-oriented innovation ecosystem connects the dots between entrepreneurs and customers, academia and corporates, capital and talent, policymakers and activists, physical and digital infrastructure – and systems financing models can help us predict and more equitably distribute the returns. Organizations like Civic Capital Lab (disclaimer: a MaRS partner) work to repurpose projects like the High Line into real-life frameworks for other cities and communities.

That kind of planning works because the challenges cities face are so similar. When civic leaders are properly prepared to make the best of modern tech-driven innovation, there’s no problem they can’t overcome.

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