University of Washington team impresses billionaire Musk with "hyperloop" safety system

Elon Musk

COLLEGE STATION, Tex. - Billionaire Elon Musk thrilled a group of college students, including a University of Washington team, when he made a surprise appearance at a "hyperloop" design competition.

Hyperloop is the name the Tesla and SpaceX founder has given to a theoretical ground transportation system in which people ride pods inside vacuum tubes at hypersonic speed.

Imagine, for example, traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in barely 30 minutes.

Musk challenged design and engineering students nationwide to perfect the idea.

Over the weekend, more than 100 university teams, including the UW team, gathered at Texas A&M University for an awards ceremony. A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston won the overall design award.

The UW team, known as known as UWashington Hyperloop, won a "safety subsystem technical excellence" award.

Musk himself made a surprise appearance at the awards ceremony, where he addressed students and took questions for about 30 minutes.

"Honestly, I'm amazed by the fact that there's been such an outpouring of enthusiasm and talent for the hyperloop competition," Musk said.

During the Q&A session, senior Malachi Williams, from the UW team asked Musk if he would autograph the team's trophy.

"Okay, how many of these are there?" Musk asked with a laugh. He then agreed to sign all the winners' trophies.

The Washington team will continue working on the futuristic transportation system. Along with the rest of this weekend's winners, the UW team heads to SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne California this summer to test a prototype hyperloop pod on a one-mile track.

(click on photo to hear the story)

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