SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition: design from creative young minds, Part 1

-October 18, 2017


Recently, New York City has been seriously discussing modernizing its aging subway system which would be a huge cost to taxpayers and a monumental effort, according to the NY Times. Amtrak has recently had multiple major accidents that ended in loss of life for a variety of reasons. Adding technology solutions to improve both systems can be an enormous help, but might it be time to begin considering an advanced technology system of distance travel like Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea? Granted, we are about 10 years from such a deployment, but there can be huge benefits with this type of system regarding speed and safety with modern electronics technology.

Let’s take a look at one example of a Hyperloop prototype development effort and you can judge for yourself. I have been intimately involved in the Arizona State University AZLoop project, right across town from where I live. This team finished in the top eight among 35 finalist teams this past August at the SpaceX facility in California. ASU graduate Josh Kosar was the co-leader of the team and a robotics engineer and he has been guiding me through their design process with each visit to speak with their team. The project co-lead was ASU graduate Lynne Nethken, a mechanical engineer. Let’s take a look at their amazing design efforts.

The AZLoop team was among the top teams in points after a week of testing, but they were not in the final-three race to determine the winner—the German WARR team, who reached a top speed of 201 mph. This did not dampen their spirits nor did it lessen their enormous technical accomplishments.


Figure 1 Here is the US/Canadian team Paradigm pod on the SpaceX test track in California about to enter the pressurized vacuum tube during the competition (Image courtesy of Charlie Leight/ASU Now)

AZLoop

Here in the Phoenix, Arizona area, 103 graduate and undergraduate students, faculty advisors, and industry advisors collaborated in a massive effort to develop an economical, sustainable, and scalable pod for the SpaceX Hyperloop transit system concept started by Elon Musk. The students came from Arizona State University (ASU), Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Northern Arizona University (NAU), and the Thunderbird School of Global Management, ranging from freshmen to PhDs, in a multi-discipline effort that spans engineering, science, mathematics, and business disciplines. The 10 faculty advisors are versed in propulsion, levitation, electrical, dynamics, modeling, controls, and other disciplines, and the 11 industry advisors represent various engineering and business sectors.

These are some of the most talented students in Arizona dedicated to making the Hyperloop a reality. Every member of AZLoop is required to contribute a minimum of 10 hours per week, each student driven by the recognition that the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition is a collaborative and unique opportunity to revolutionize the world through innovation in transportation.


Figure 2 The AZLoop team with their pod at SpaceX (Image courtesy of Charlie Leight/ASU Now)

I met some members of this talented team at the ASU campus recently and could feel the excitement, dedication, and anticipation of new discoveries and techniques in their quest to have the winning design to make this a better world. This team has now advanced their design from the original 1,300 team designs to a select few 24 teams with incredibly advanced designs. Learn more in the following video:

The team’s ability to work smoothly across the multiple disciplines that make this design a success, have greatly impressed me. I saw no evidence of showmanship or trying to upstage another team member or group. There was a genuine comradeship among all those I have met, as well as an air of excitement and anticipation of what they will be doing to make this system function at its highest level to meet the need for one of the next generation’s means of transportation for mankind. It was a true atmosphere of professionalism, technical prowess, and a vibrant search for solutions that is rarely seen in recent times. As an example, see the following video which shows the propulsion and software teams of AZLoop collaborating.

In this article, I will primarily be highlighting the electronics and magnetics of the design, but will also give a good overview of all the key systems incorporated into this complex design.


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