From the wheel to the cell phone, new advancements in technology are continually revolutionizing the way society operates. And now, there’s another one for the books: the hyperloop.
First put into theory by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the hyperloop is a high-speed transportation system aimed at eliminating travel complications due to cost, time, and weather conditions. While the idea of such a system may be attractive, hyperloop technology has yet to be perfected. Musk intends to change that.
In June 2015, the SpaceX CEO announced a competition to create the best hyperloop pod, open to any university or independent engineering team willing to take up the challenge. Teams participating in the competition were asked to design and build a safe, scalable, and feasible hyperloop pod, which will then be tested on a mile long track at the California headquarters.
A hyperloop would theoretically break the sound barrier, travelling at a speed of 760+ mph, almost four times faster than a train. Pods move in evacuated tubes above the ground using a magnetic levitation system. The dynamics of a hyperloop diminish external influences, like the drag force of air and friction, allowing for supersonic speed at low energy consumption.
The final round of the SpaceX competition is set to take place this summer, when participants will demonstrate their human-scale pods on the track. There are 30 teams advancing to the final round including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Cincinnati, University of California Santa Barbara, and Carnegie Mellon University.
University of Cincinnati’s team, titled Hyperloop UC, was founded by graduate engineering student Dhaval Shiyani. The team boasts over 60 members from various fields such as engineering, business, and design.
Tim Allen, a member of Hyperloop UC’s Operations team, said that the team has achieved a great amount in these past few months, winning multiple awards for their work.
“We are the only team from Ohio to have been selected in the final round beating out other notable universities,” Allen said. “The group has won several awards for their accomplishments including the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Design Competition finalist award which is a sample of the actual steel material that will be used in the first ever Hyperloop test track in the world.”
The allure of a hyperloop comes from its many economic advantages, such as lower construction costs, affordable travel, and self-sufficiency. Strategically placed solar panels along the tracks will produce a surplus of energy needed to fuel the system.
Mason Physics teacher Joseph Schnell said that a hyperloop system exhibits proficiency in a number of ways.
“I think it has the potential to be much more of an efficient system for transport than the things we have now,” Schnell said. “It’s not necessarily going to require fossil fuels to work. The track itself has less potential for danger. It could have a reduced need for constant maintenance because there aren’t moving parts that are going to wear and tear against each other. It could definitely, especially in the U.S. where we’re so spread out geographically, be an excellent way to cover large areas of distance.”
According to Hyperloop UC Aerodynamicist Karthik Vigneshwar, transportation of humans using this technology is not only feasible, but closer to reality than many might think.
“The biggest challenge for transporting humans through the Hyperloop is safety,” Vigneshwar said. “An obvious first step is to implement a working full scale Hyperloop system for cargo capsules. This would help in demonstrating the feasibility, safety and reliability of the system paving the way for human travel. The potential benefits of such a transportation system greatly outweigh the hurdles to be overcome.”
The participants in the SpaceX competition are not the only ones looking to revolutionize the world with this technology. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a company dedicated to developing a fully-functional hyperloop, has negotiated an agreement with the Slovakian government to implement their designs and later connect to Austria and Hungary.
The hyperloop can solve many environmental problems the world is currently facing, such as global warming and depletion of natural resources,Vigneshwar said.
“It can jump current transportation methods where we can directly move to a cleaner system than going through the motley of non-renewable, polluting means of transportation,” Vigneshwar said. “In a world where clean, efficient, and fast transportation solutions are paramount to the success of rapidly changing environment, the Hyperloop provides the perfect solution.”