Hyperloop is Elon Musk’s idea for a new mode of transport – pods carrying people or cargo would be propelled through an evacuated tube at speeds higher than those of commercial airliners. SpaceX organised a student competition to develop a prototype of a hyperloop pod. I attended the final round of the competition in California with Edinburgh Hyperloop Society (HypED).
The competition started by interviews with SpaceX engineers. Some of the brightest minds of our times wanted to verify that our design is sound, and we have good procedures for testing all the systems of our pod and demonstrating that they are operational and safe. I had to justify our testing procedures for the navigation system which is very important for being able to brake in time and not crash at the end of the tube. I had been working on navigation for a couple of months, so I was very happy when I managed to get it approved. The rest of the team mostly enjoyed similar success.
SpaceX were generally impressed by our design as we took a different and much bolder approach than most other teams. Since the only goal of the competition was to achieve the highest speed on a relatively short piece of track, the easiest way to win the competition is to use standard wheels, much like a car. But wheels don’t seem to be very feasible for the speeds that a real hyperloop would operate at. We chose the harder path and tried to create something closer to a real hyperloop pod. Similar recognition as from SpaceX came from other teams who began referring to our pod as “The Beast”.
On the last testing day, all teams were called to a SpaceX tent and six teams were chosen to keep testing. Others had to leave. We were among the six which was a great boost to the team’s morale. We worked tirelessly until late in the evening but did not manage to overcome some electrical problems. We ended up 6th which was a great achievement.