"Cars and, well, Hyperloops and unmanned air vehicles and all kinds of things like that, which, in my opinion, will spur a whole new, exciting revolution," Spedding says.
Teams will sign up in September, submit final designs in December and then present their ideas in person in January to a panel of university professors and engineers from SpaceX and Tesla. Then the contestants and their pods face off on a 1-mile test track somewhere near SpaceX headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne. (How one is able to demonstrate high speeds on a 1-mile track is a big open question.)
The company may also build its own demonstration pod -- but it won't be eligible to win. It's already developing technology at its offices.
More details of the competition will be released in August. Texas A&M University will host the January design event, where teams will get feedback and companies can connect with the ones they want to sponsor.
In recent months, a handful of independent startups have started working on the project, including Hyperloop Technologies, which has leased warehouse space in downtown Los Angeles.
Professor Spedding says he can see the obvious appeal of the competition for students, but companies ... not so much. Not when the ideas will all be open source. "They’re not going to make any money if it’s all public property."
Maybe, maybe not. When he first introduced his Hyperloop design in 2013, Musk said he was "disappointed" with California high-speed rail. But that line is already under construction, and its survival arguably has more to do with politics than engineering -- even if it is not anticipated to reach speeds far beyond 200 miles an hour.
The political viability of an unsolicited alternative may be close to nil, but would-be inventors are betting the contest can expose them to potential investors and the media. After all, when Elon Musk muses, the rest of the world pays attention. It's also a compelling line of scientific inquiry.
Professor Spedding said he was initially skeptical of Musk's proposal, but then he read the position paper. "He's thought about this from a fundamental point of view. I wouldn't say that I'm a born-again believer, but I think there's sufficient analysis already been done to merit further investigation."