In 2013 billionaire inventor and businessman Elon Musk unveiled an idea for a new form of transportation between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Hyperloop, a hypothetical subsonic air travel system, was envisioned to be safer, faster, and cheaper, as well as more sustainable and convenient, than current modes of transportation. It would consist of low pressure tubes with capsules that float on a cushion of compressed air and transported at low and high speeds along the length of the tube.
Last July Mr. Musk’s company, SpaceX, announced an open competition for students and independent engineering teams to design and build the best hyperloop pod and their intention to construct a one-mile test track adjacent to their Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters.
A team of 15 Memorial University students accepted the challenge, which falls outside their current academic responsibilities. The students joined counterparts from five American universities to form one team that would work together on a submission for a preliminary design. The group split the overall pod design project into subsystems, with Memorial being responsible for designing the air compression system.
Led locally by project manager Andrew Way, a joint computer science/physics student, the remaining members of the Memorial team come from the departments of computer science and mechanical, processing and electrical engineering.
In November they submitted their initial design package. Within two weeks they received an invitation to participate in the next phase of the competition, a design weekend in Texas in late January that would see team members showcase their design to sponsors.
“The limiting factor in whether or not a team progresses to the final phase, the actual test phase in June where you put your pod into a test track, is whether or not you can get funding from sponsors at the design weekend,” said Mr. Way. “If you can’t get funding, you can’t build it. We’re essentially being voted in by sponsors.”
Because the universities responsible for the individual subsystems have access to varying degrees of resources, if the build goes ahead, they will each need to put together their own component of the pod before sending it on to a final assembly location.
“The scale of the project is enormous and it’s something we couldn’t have done by ourselves, both financially and resource-wise,” said Arad Gharagozli, the project’s avionics programming lead and a computer engineering student. “Everyone has a lot on their plate, but working with a team of knowledgeable, passionate and smart people has been a great experience.”
“The opportunity to collaborate with people from different universities and academic backgrounds has been wonderful,” added Mr. Way. “But the coolest part about being involved is the opportunity to contribute to the overall progress of the hyperloop itself. I think if a group of university students on limited budgets, constrained resources and minimal access to industrial expertise can successfully build and test a hyperloop pod, we can show investors and companies that it is not only technologically possible, but economically feasible as well.”
The design weekend takes place Jan. 29-30 at Texas A&M University.