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Swiss teams rank highly in annual ‘hyperloop’ showdown

hyperloop invention
ETH Zurich students testing their high-speed pod in June. © Keystone / Walter Bieri

Two Swiss entries in the Hyperloop contest – a competition to develop futuristic high-speed transport pods – have finished in the top three spots.

The student-built pods from the federal technology institutes in Zurich (ETH Zurich) and Lausanne (EPFL) finished second and third respectively in the final of the contest held at the headquarters of Elon Musk’s SpaceX group in California.

Held each year, Hyperloop awards prizes for the best-developed transport pods – capsules capable of travelling at great speeds in vacuum tubes and, possibly, the means of future travel.

ETH Zurich’s “Claude Nicollier” (named after Switzerland’s first astronaut) took second place with a top speed of 257km/h (160mph) on the 1.2-kilometre test course; EPFL’s “Bella Lui” (named after a canton Valais mountain) managed 238km/h. It’s the second year in a row that EPFL has finished third.

Researchers from the University of Munich, reaching a top speed of 463km/h, won first prize for the fourth year running. 

Quick commute

The capsules, built to function in vacuum conditions, measure around two to three metres in length and weigh some 200 kilograms. Powered by electricity or batteries, they need to be able not just to reach top speeds quickly, but also to stop suddenly – EPFL’s Bella Lui is capable of braking from 500km/h to zero in two seconds.

The competition was launched by Musk in 2015 in an effort to develop a high-speed transport means for the future. He wants to develop a capsule capable of speeds of 1,200km/h that could ferry people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under 30 minutes.

Next year, entries will have to contend with a longer test tunnel (ten kilometres) as well as a challenging curve, Musk said on Twitter.

The Swiss Federal Railways is also planning to build and test a high-speed hyperloop system in an industrial zone in canton Valais, it was announced late last year.

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