HYPERWHOOP - DESIGNING FOR THE SPACEX HYPERLOOP POD COMPETITION
By Katie Schneider '18 | Vol. 3 Issue 2
“What do you think, Katie? Are we in?” This text came from a friend in Summer 2015, asking me if I wanted to compete in SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition. The challenge, posed by Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, was to bring his vision for a public transportation method that would send passengers flying through a near-vacuum contained by a subway tunnel-like tube in hovering pods at near-supersonic speeds with almost no friction at all. Ever since Musk revealed the idea in 2013, I had been fascinated by his designs. He was my hero; his work on such revolutionary projects inspired me to become an aerospace engineer at Texas A&M! The competition required teams to create ready-to-build designs for a pod in only one semester—it wouldn’t be easy, but I was thrilled by the opportunity to work on something that had never been done before.
My enthusiastic reply, “We’re in!!!”
What began as a fun project with a few friends quickly grew into a major adventure. Students studying mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, civil engineering, aerospace engineering, computer engineering, manufacturing technology, electrical systems technology, physics, architecture and visualization joined our group. We all came from different backgrounds with different experience, but we were united by our passion for technology on the cutting-edge like the hyperloop. I was chosen to be team captain, and after our very first brainstorming session, we found our team name: HyperWhoop.
We met at the Engineering Innovation Center (EIC), an engineer’s wonderland filled with 3D printers, lathes, mills, soldering stations and work spaces. Long days were spent filling whiteboards with ideas. As the weeks passed, our ideas slowly began to take shape. We were the only A&M team to include non-engineering students, but they were the key to our success. The architecture students had been taught to think differently, incorporating both sound mechanical principles and elegant aesthetics. The visualization students took the idea that the engineering and architecture students created and brought it to life with stunning graphics. By January, we had our design. Our pod would float down the track on a cushion of air like a puck on an air hockey table and require only thirty seconds at the hyperloop boarding station before setting off again.
We finished just in time for Design Weekend.
Teams from around the world met in the Hall of Champions at Kyle Field to present their ideas to engineering faculty, industry leaders and designers from SpaceX in the hope that their design would be chosen to receive funding to build their pods for the world’s first ever hyperloop test track. For the first day of the competition, teams and judges had the hall to themselves. The vast auditorium buzzed with nervous excitement as the teams set up their booths and prepared to present their designs to the judges. Flight simulators, technology demonstrations, and virtual reality simulations all added to the perception that we were on the cutting edge of innovation.
Our booth had a big blue backdrop with “HyperWhoop” splashed across the top and a hole in the center through which a flat-screen monitor displayed a video showcasing our design. Our team members took turns talking to visitors at our station and browsing stations of the other teams. After months of secrecy, it was wonderful to talk with engineers around the world about how they had approached certain challenges and discuss our different visions for the technology. Our team’s presentation went well, after which we were able to enjoy the best part—showing our work to the public!
On the second day of the competition, the Hall of Champions was opened to the public. Adults, children, students and engineers flooded the auditorium, and we were excited to share our enthusiasm and ideas with them. The finale of the competition was the awards ceremony. HyperWhoop did not receive an award, but my fellow Fightin’ Texas Aggie aerospace engineers on a senior design team won two awards and will be moving forward to build their pod! “And now,” said the presenter once the awards had been distributed, “We know that many of you have been asking if Elon Musk would come today. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we can answer that question.” The crowd erupted into cheers, and I was among the very loudest! After the pandemonium died down, Musk spent several minutes taking questions from the teams. He finished by saying, “I think the work you guys are doing is going to blow people’s minds.”
A few hours later as we packed up our booth, HyperWhoop team members were already talking about what our next project should be now that the Hyperloop Pod Design Competition was over. We may not have won this time, but with resources like the EIC and the support that the College of Engineering gives its students, another adventure is always right around the corner.