“You cannot Google and find out how to build a Hyperloop pod!” says Prithvi Sankar, a team member of Hyperloop India that is gearing up to participate in one of the most challenging competitions ever.
Hyperloop it is an entirely new technology that is finding its own evolution as the transportation mode of the future. Pods carrying passengers and cargo will be magnetically levitated, propelled using electric motors and transported through vacuum tubes. Hyperloop will eliminate factors of friction and air resistance that are limiting the speeds at which we commute today. With tracks installed above the ground with series of evacuated tubes, we can travel at speeds of more than 450 kmph.
In simple terms, we will be able to reach Chennai from Bangalore in an unimaginable time span of 30 minutes!
This doesn’t fall under any of the transport mediums that we know of. Hyperloop is a bit of rail, air and land transport and Hyperloop is also not anything like any of these. It is a clean slate that is waiting to be sketched with innovations and ground-breaking technology. And working their brains making this futuristic technology a reality is Hyperloop India – the only team from India and one of the only two teams from Asia that made it to the finals of SpaceX’s Hyperloop Challenge.
Though it is a 19th century idea, it took the maverick of Elon Musk to bring Hyperloop to the forefront as a technology that can revolutionise urban transport. He presented the idea in 2013 and caught the imagination of engineers across the world. Critics and sceptics across the world dismiss Hyperloop but optimists believe that Hyperloop is the future of our transport. To accelerate the design and development of Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, announced a worldwide technology competition for students in 2015. The expectation is to build the most efficient pods that will carry people and cargo on Hyperloop tracks. The challenge enticed five engineering students from BITS Pilani who enrolled themselves for the competition.
From hundreds of teams that participated in the preliminaries of the competition, this team has reached the finals with the top 24 teams that will compete in California this August.
The Hyperloop India team has evolved from its first five members to an 80-member-strong team. The first team realised that the enormity of the challenge needed skillsets from various streams – engineering, electronics, software, industrial design, business development and more. Students from across BITS campuses, IIM Ahmedabad, National Institute of Design, Indian School of Business, RV College of Engineering, Symbiosis University have all come together to be a part of this momentous project.
They together have designed their prototype pod called Orcapod that will race in the Hyperloop competition.
All was well until the design stage. The big challenge was to build the pod. Where do the students physically build it? They needed to test their pod in vacuum chambers. They needed materials that could make the pod lighter and travel faster. Also, they did not have the financial backing to hire these infrastructural facilities. The team of students reached out to every possible entity that could help them out.
The team’s prototype will be unveiled in Bengaluru in the first week of August, 2017, followed which the Orcapod will be transported to California for the final competition to be held between August 25 and 27.
The team chose space-grade-aluminium over the costly carbon-fibre. This decision did add an extra 20 kg to their pod, but the team believes this will be negligible in the big picture. The team is the only one to use nose opening for their pod unlike all other competitors who have opted for side opening. By using nose opening, the team wanted to make sure that the pod can carry multiple capsules of passengers and cargo. If there are more passengers, more passenger capsules can be loaded and vice versa. This flexibility will prove to be useful while managing the demand between passengers and cargo.
The Hyperloop India team believes that Hyperloop transport can become a reality in India by 2025. They say it would cost 40% lesser than high-speed bullet trains. Also, Hyperloop does not require to burn fossil fuels, requires less energy to operate and it does not pollute. In fact, the solar panels that can be installed on the Hyperloop tubes can help generate additional energy, making Hyperloop an energy positive technology. The team is taking the discussions forward with the government, Indian Railways, the transportation ministries and policy makers. With the experience and exposure that they gain at this competition, the team hopes to drastically change transportation in India.