As Another Hyperloop Passenger Pod Deadline Passes, Designers Ask the 700 Mph Question

"How do you get something to move at 700 mph?"

by Sam Blum

The deadline to turn in preliminary design briefs for Hyperloop passenger pods came and went last Friday, November 13, as engineers submitted their plans for how to turn a critical component of Elon Musk’s super-fast transportation idea into reality.

The “Official SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition,” announced in June with a goal of the passenger pods being tested at the Hyperloop test track in the summer of 2016, is “geared towards university students and independent engineering teams.”

Anthony Cirillo is one of those students. A senior at the University of California, Irvine, he’s worked on a Hyperloop project alongside 20 other students and 9 faculty advisors since September.

There have been challenges, namely financial constraints, making the road rockier than Cirillo would have liked: “Currently our budget is up to $80,000 and for a university project, they just can’t possibly fund that. So we’ve turned our attention to sponsorships,” he tells Inverse.

Any impediments more money can’t fix are outweighed by a different question: “How do you get something to move at 700 mph?” That reference to the figure Elon Musk included in his 2013 whitepaper on Hyperloop got the project going.

A side view of HyperXite's Hyperloop pod

UC Irvine HyperXite

The answer to the 700 mph question is found in engineering, where Cirillo and his group, called HyperXite, think they’ve made something that will “take home the victory,” when the groups tests its 1:2 scale model pod along a one-mile track in Hawthorne, California in June 2016.

The Hyperloop technology has always emphasized that the pods sort of float (“the same basic principle as an air hockey table” Musk wrote back in 2013), and Cirillo says his group wanted to stay true to that original notion and avoid electromagnetic methods altogether:

“We decided to go with an air tank system that will provide a ton of pressure for about 10 minutes and keep us levitated for the duration of the competition,” he says.

The group has dubbed their project HyperXite and made sure its pod doesn’t streak against the sides of the tube by “using horizontal air bearings that will push against a rail,” placed in the middle of the tube for stability and traction.

On Friday night, they submitted their preliminary design briefing:

Final design packages are due on January 13, which comes a few weeks before a “Design Weekend,” an in-person event at Texas A&M on January 29-30.

Then, next summer, the top pods will compete on the test track. We’ve contacted SpaceX officials to ask how many preliminary design briefs they have received and we’ll update when we hear back.

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