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Less Hype, More HyperLoop

Students compete for Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s attention by building a high-speed pod prototype.


Billionaire Elon Musk, who is the CEO of Tesla and the aerospace firm SpaceX, came up with the concept of a high-speed HyperLoop, a massive tube stretching between San Francisco and Los Angeles that, traveling at 700 mph, could transport people between the cities in about 30 minutes (versus a six-hour drive).

But, like every smart inventor, Musk is not developing the Hyperloop without aid, rather, he is holding a competition to encourage students and engineers to develop prototype pods. SpaceX has built a test track in California, where, this summer, participants will bring their products to compete.

According to an article in Teslarati (and written by Automation World contributing editor Grant Gerke), in January 2016, SpaceX held the Hyperloop Pod design competition at Texas A&M and evaluated more than 124 concepts. Thirty plus university teams were picked to move on to competition weekend at SpaceX’s Hawthorne facility.

The MIT Hyperloop team won the best Overall Design Award while the Pod Innovation Award went to the Delft Univ. of Technology in the Netherlands. The event also awarded BadgerLoop, from the Univ. of Wisconsin, with the 3rd place and the Pod Technical Excellence award.

Grant spoke with members of the BadgerLoop team, which created a pod with Halbach arrays, a certain configuration of magnets that amplify the magnetic field on one side, and negate it on the other side of the array. Passing this array over the aluminum sub track creates eddy currents which give the pod its levitation.

“Our design creates drag from the levitation but by spinning the wheels — using drag — in the opposite direction, we can create thrust to move the pod forward,” said BadgerLoop levitation lead Bill Carpenter. “Our pod has a total of ten Halbach Array wheels, four in the front and back, and two in the middle. So, it’s negating our drag and providing a truly frictionless ride. It’s also providing that contactless stability in all directions. Plus, it’s an active system so we can control it, speed it up or slow it down.”

And, that’s just the beginning…

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