Floating on air
Nine students from Memorial University travelled to Texas in January 2016 and presented their design for a prototype of a high-speed ground transport vehicle that floats on air bearings in a vacuum tube. They were participating in the SpaceX hyperloop pod competition created by Canadian-American billionaire inventor and entrepreneur, Elon Musk.
The students were part of an alliance of six universities, including Cornell, Northeastern, Harvey Mudd, Michigan and Princeton, combining their talent and resources to compete in the design competition as one team: OpenLoop. Their ultimate goal: to design, build and test a scaled down hyperloop pod.
Out of more than 1,200 applicants, OpenLoop was selected as one of 125 design finalists representing 130 colleges and 20 countries. SpaceX then chose 20 teams to go forward; OpenLoop was not one of them. But that wasn’t the end of the team’s story.
On the final night, SpaceX got in touch with the OpenLoop team, giving them 12 hours to prove the feasibility of the pod’s design, and when those changes were made, their design was approved to move forward to the next phase of the competition: building the pod.
After devoting nearly 10 months to the building the pod, the team travelled to LA this past January to test their pod on a mile-long track built adjacent to SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters against 27 other teams from around the world. The event marked the first time the newest mode of transportation, hyperloop, was tested anywhere in the world.
“We finished the competition having completed all tests to get into the tube to test our pod, which was more than 100 checklist items,” said Adam Keating, fifth-year mechanical engineering student and project lead, OpenLoop. “We were cleared for tube access, but the organizers were unable to schedule us in due to scheduling constraints.”
Overall, OpenLoop was one of only 10 teams to surpass all the safety, operation and performance checkpoints required to make an official hyperloop run. The team successfully completed vacuum chamber testing, levitation testing, translational and braking testing as well as controls verification during their week at SpaceX.
After the competition, Northeastern and Memorial University students decided to form a new alliance named Paradigm to continue with the pod and compete in the second competition, which is scheduled for this summer. Also, Paradigm received news that their final design package was so well done that they are going to be admitted straight through to the final stage of the competition.
While they didn’t get to test their pod in the mile-long tube in January 2017, Mr. Keating is very pleased with their success to-date.
“To be one of the pioneers of this new technology on such a global stage is an amazing accomplishment. I am very proud of the hard work from the entire team over the past 18 months and I am excited to make history this summer in the second competition.”