MIT student engineers won a competition to transform SpaceX and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk's idea into a design for a Hyperloop to move pods of people at high speed.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, based in Cambridge, Mass., was named the winner Saturday after a competition among more than 1,000 college students at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The Hyperloop is a high-speed ground transport concept proposed by Musk to transport "pods" of 20 to 30 people through a 12-foot diameter tube at speeds of roughly 1,120 kilometres per hour.

The MIT team described its design concept on its website:

  • Design philosophy: "Our primary goal is to demonstrate high speed, low drag levitation technology. We aim to build a light pod to allow us to achieve the highest cruise speed. Pending SpaceX launcher specifications, our 250kg pod should be accelerated at 2.4G to a max speed of 110m/s (396 kilometres per hour)." Team leader Philippe Kirschen told CBC News in an email that the short length of the demonstration track limits the amount of acceleration and therefore the maximum cruising speed, which would be much faster for a full-length track.
  • Levitation: "The pod will utilize a passive magnetic levitation system that incorporates two arrays of 20 neodymium magnets. After liftoff, the pod will maintain a 15mm levitation gap height at cruising speed and a peak lift-to-drag ratio of 14."
  • Lift suspension: "The lift suspension significantly reduces system vibrations and allows the pod to traverse track variations The system will also retract the pod's skis to reduce magnetic drag during low speed operation."
  • Lateral control: "The pod's lateral control will utilize passive magnets and active electromagnetic damping to maintain lateral stability and keep the pod centered on the rail."
  • Brakes: "The team has designed a mechanically fail-safe braking system, meaning if the actuators or computers fail, the system will brake automatically. The system is single fault tolerant and can decelerate the pod at the 2.4G maximum permitted under SpaceX rules. From top speed, the brakes dissipate 1.5MJ of kinetic energy."
  • Low-speed drive: "In case of emergency, the pod will be capable of driving itself forwards or backwards at 1 m/s using the pod's low speed drive wheels."
  • Electronics: "The pod's modular electronics architecture will enable autonomous flight control and braking. Thorough instrumentation and robust state estimation will ensure the pod performs safely during flight."
  • Shell: "The pod's shell will be composed of woven carbon fiber and polycarbonate sheets. With the lowest tube pressure available (140 Pa), this shape will have only 2N aerodynamic drag at 110 m/s."
  • Frame: "The pod will employ a simple ladder frame concept to allow for timeline-viable manufacturing. The pod's frame will consist of large welded aluminum rails supporting the main internal components."

More than 100 university teams presented design concepts to a panel of judges in an event that began Friday.

Delft University of Technology from The Netherlands finished second, the University of Wisconsin third, Virginia Tech fourth and the University of California, Irvine, fifth.

The top teams will build their pods and test them at the world's first Hyperloop Test Track, being built adjacent to SpaceX's Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters.

With files from CBC News