Tech teams around the world prepare to compete at the SpaceX Hyperloop competition

Key Points
  • Teams from universities and colleges around the world are coming together at SpaceX to test their pod designs on a hyperloop test track.
  • The hyperloop involves using magnets and a vacuum tube to accelerate a pod at speeds of more than 700 miles per hour.
  • Aside from the technological challenges, investment, legislation and politics remain obstacles for hyperloop to overcome.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduces pods entering the hyperloop test track at the last competition in January 2017
GENE BLEVINS | AFP | Getty Images

More than 20 teams developing pods to work on the hyperloop, the superfast transport system, are heading to California this weekend to test their devices at SpaceX's test track.

The student teams from universities and technology colleges around the world will be testing their pods to see who can achieve the maximum speed on the test track (without crashing).

SpaceX founder Elon Musk promoted the idea of the hyperloop in 2013. It involves using magnetic levitation to propel a pod through a vacuum tube at speeds of more than 700 miles per hour. Proponents of the idea suggest it will revolutionize the transportations of goods and people.

"It will change the way people work and commute. Imagine distances that were 5 hours away by car that become 15 minutes to 20 minutes away. It becomes something you can imagine yourself using to commute every day," Thomas Lambot, engineering lead at rLoop, an online think tank working on the hyperloop , told CNBC during a phone interview.

"At the same time, the efficiency and the point-to-point transportation just allows you to move things very fast, very quickly and in a smart way."

A close up of the rPod, a hyperloop pod designed by rLoop
Gregory Georgianna | rLoop

A team from rLoop will be attending this weekend in order to test their prototype pod called the rPod, which has been designed as a scalable solution for transportation on the hyperloop.

"The focus of the competition is speed and most of the pods you will see are built just to go fast, but we've come with a complex system that is designed to be scalable," Brent Lessard, project lead at rLoop, told CNBC during a phone call.

"It doesn't lend itself to just being the fastest pod there. We've been focused on accessing those testing facilities and extracting as much data as we can."

The rPod is also able to run outside of the hyperloop vacuum tube, although it would run at a lower speed, closer to a high-speed vehicle, rather than the superfast speeds capable within the controlled environment of a tube.

"The levitating mechanism is an active system and allows us to actually levitate on any conducting service, so you don't have to be within the hyperloop tube itself," Lessard explained.

"The tube itself would allow us to control the environment within, to make it optimal for elegant energy usage and achieve those higher speeds. Outside of the tube it would be like an automobile."

When will the hyperloop become publically available?

While these teams, along with larger companies such as Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, are working on solving the technical issues of the hyperloop, other challenges exist ahead for the transportations system.

"At the moment we see challenges in the financial and political sphere. We'll have to make sure, that the tube and overall system comply with regulations and won't impair people (visual and landscape issues if overground)," Luca Di Tizio, CEO of Swissloop, a team of students Switzerland, told CNBC via email.

"We expect a fully commercial, European Hyperloop System to be market ready in five to ten years. Built and having its maiden voyage, I'd say 15 to 20 years.

The Swissloop team posing with their hyperloop pod design

Lambot and Lessard from rLoop also predicted a hyperloop being built within five to ten years.

"Some people speak optimistically about it being available in the next couple years but the reality is five to ten years is probably a good ballpark. There will be extensive testing and regulation issues to cover before there is any sort of public use of it," Lessard said.

Excitement ahead for the hyperloop competition

This weekend's competition is the second to be held by SpaceX. Several of the teams attending this weekend are returning with newly designed prototypes, such as the WARR Hyperloop team at the Technical University of Munich.

"WARR's first prototype won prizes for Fastest Pod and Best Performance in Flight. Building on their past success in the speed category, in March a new WARR team—thirty students from eleven countries—passed the initial design stage with a completely new design," said WARR in a press release published July.

"The team and their pod will travel in mid-August to SpaceX headquarters, where they will attempt to post the winning time in the 1250m long test tube."

The WARR Hyperloop team from the Technical University of Munich pose with their pod in July
WARR Hyperloop

Another team attending the competition is the Hyp-ED team from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

"We are super excited with the competition and being in California. We watched a (SpaceX rocket) Falcon 9 launch today with SpaceX employees and we were around 1km from the actual control room of the launch," Adam Anyszewski, president of the team, told CNBC on Thursday.

"We have a workshop here where we work and have access to machinery, tools and materials (Urban Workshop in Costa Mesa). Overall, the preparations, however stressful and energy draining are going well and we feel proud of our progress and performance so far."

Anyszewski also discussed the outlook for a hyperloop system to be developed in the U.K. He says a hyperloop would enable the country to "future-proof" infrastructure and create a competitive economy. However, he warns it will be a long process requiring large amounts of investment and public spending.

"I'm happy to say that the U.K. public should see some progress on country's Hyperloop in the next couple of years and hopefully the first full scale systems running in a few. One thing to realise is that the first hyperloops might be optimised for cargo, not passengers, to ensure the system can be reliably operated."

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