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European Teams Win Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Competition in California

Elon Musks tries out the pod developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the SpaceX Hyperloop competition in January 2017. Photo: @badger_loop / Twitter
Elon Musks tries out the pod developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the SpaceX Hyperloop competition in January 2017. Photo: @badger_loop / Twitter

Hyperloop teams from the Netherlands and Germany were the main winners at a competition organised by SpaceX this weekend.

Out of a total of 27 teams from the US and around the world, the Europeans were among the only three teams to proceed to the final stage of the competition on Sunday (29 January) and successfully completed test runs with their scaled-down prototype pods in a 1.25-kilometre Hyperloop tube.

A team from Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) won the main prize, securing the most points in total across all judging categories. The award for the fastest Hyperloop pod went to a team from TU Munich in Germany. The Europeans defeated competition from universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tokyo’s Keio University.

The European universities participating in the event this weekend collaborate in the European Union’s climate innovation partnership, Climate-KIC. In addition to the winning teams from TU Delft and TU Munich, students from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) were also represented. During an earlier stage of the competition, the Spanish team received awards for its design concept and propulsion systems.

Elon Musk

A lot has happened since Elon Musk first published a white paper on the Hyperloop, a potentially highly sustainable transport system. Released as an open source concept in 2013, the technology could see passengers travel in pods that levitate through low-pressure tubes at more than 1000 kilometres per hour.

Although a number of companies are currently developing full-scale commercial Hyperloop trains, Musk and his space company SpaceX have been running a global student competition to accelerate innovation in the field.

Since the competition launched in 2015, half-sized pods built by student teams from around the world underwent intense scrutiny from SpaceX engineers. Sunday was the first time that teams completed test runs in what Musk said was the second-biggest vacuum chamber of the world after the large hadron collider in Switzerland.

 

Scalable Prototype

Ahead of the test runs at SpaceX’s headquarters near Los Angeles, electric car pioneer Elon Musk told participants at the event that the point of the competition was to “not just be a repeat of the past, but to explore the boundaries of physics.”

The pod developed by the WARR team from TU Munich has been built by some 40 students with backgrounds such as mechanical engineering, computer science and environmental engineering. The German team says it wants to be able to develop its pod into a full-scale commercial Hyperloop system.

One of the things that made the WARR pod stand out is its compressor, which the team included to make sure the prototype can be scaled up without having to upgrade the technology. “Even though the speed of the test will be much slower than that of the final transportation system, we wanted to integrate a compressor to reduce the air friction,” the team says.

Because the vacuum created in the Hyperloop system is not perfect, a small amount of air remains in the tubes. At high speeds, that air will start to pile up in front of the pod – the compressor has been designed to fix that issue. WARR achieved a speed of more than 90 kilometres per hour during yesterday’s test run.

“As Fast as a Plane”

Delft University of Technology‘s carbon-fibre pod, meanwhile, is “as fast as a plane” and “as convenient as a train,” according to the team’s website. The Dutch students also emphasise that they are already thinking about how their invention will function commercially.

The team says a full-scale version of their pod will include virtual windows to offer simulated 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape “to make the experience more enjoyable and calming while travelling through a tube without windows.”

One of the defining features of the Dutch pod is a state of the art stabilisation and braking mechanism. On their website, the team explains this is needed to ensure a smooth ride free of vibrations because 1000 kilometres per hour is “not the speed our bodies are used to.”

The Dutch team includes 30 students from all the faculties of their university and is “extremely motivated to make the world cleaner, faster and more efficient,” their website states.

 

Also want to make the world cleaner, faster and more efficient? Find out how Climate-KIC could help you accelerate your technology.

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