Urban Transport

MIT engineers win Hyperloop pod competition, will test prototype in mid-2016

The winners of SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod Competition celebrate after learning on their victory
The winners of SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod Competition celebrate after learning on their victory
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SpaceX itself is not developing the Hyperloop, first imagined by Elon Musk in a 2013 white paper, but it is very much encouraging anyone and everyone to pursue the idea on their own
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SpaceX itself is not developing the Hyperloop, first imagined by Elon Musk in a 2013 white paper, but it is very much encouraging anyone and everyone to pursue the idea on their own
Elon Musk drops into SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod Competition at Texas A&M University
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Elon Musk drops into SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod Competition at Texas A&M University
The winners of SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod Competition celebrate after learning on their victory
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The winners of SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod Competition celebrate after learning on their victory
Judged by a panel of representatives from SpaceX, Tesla and Texas A&M with Musk also in attendance, the submissions were assessed on a variety of criteria
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Judged by a panel of representatives from SpaceX, Tesla and Texas A&M with Musk also in attendance, the submissions were assessed on a variety of criteria
The MIT team's winning design details a 250 kg (551 lb) passenger pod with an exterior crafted from carbon fiber and polycarbonate sheets
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The MIT team's winning design details a 250 kg (551 lb) passenger pod with an exterior crafted from carbon fiber and polycarbonate sheets

The Hyperloop's journey from audacious concept to a functional, superfast transport system went up a gear over the weekend with more than 115 engineering teams descending on Texas A&M University to present passenger capsule designs in SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod Competition. An MIT team took out first place in the contest, and along with 22 other top designs it will now build human-scale prototypes to test out at SpaceX HQ later in the year.

SpaceX itself is not developing the Hyperloop, first imagined by Elon Musk in a 2013 white paper, but it is very much encouraging anyone and everyone to pursue the idea on their own. The futuristic transport solution would see passenger pods zip through low-friction tubes at more than 700 mph (1,126 km/h), and could potentially shuttle people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour.

A couple of startups have since taken up the challenge and begun work on their own test tracks and vehicles, but the weekend's competition saw engineering students from 20 different countries roll into Texas with detailed pod designs in tow. Judged by a panel of representatives from SpaceX, Tesla and Texas A&M, with Musk also in attendance, the submissions were assessed on a variety of criteria, including the innovation and detail of their designs, full Hyperloop system applicability, economics and feasibility.

The MIT team's winning design details a 250 kg (551 lb) passenger pod with an exterior crafted from carbon fiber and polycarbonate sheets. With a passive magnetic levitation system comprising 20 neodymium magnets, the pod is designed to maintain a 15 mm (0.6 in) levitation gap above the track.

The MIT team's winning design details a 250 kg (551 lb) passenger pod with an exterior crafted from carbon fiber and polycarbonate sheets
The MIT team's winning design details a 250 kg (551 lb) passenger pod with an exterior crafted from carbon fiber and polycarbonate sheets

The team says with the lowest available tube pressure available of 140 Pa, the pod should be accelerated at 2.4 G and have 2 N aerodynamic drag when traveling at 110 m/s. The design also features a fail-safe braking system that automatically brings the pod to a halt should the actuators or computers fail, and low speed drive wheels that can move the pod forwards or backwards at 1 m/s in an emergency situation.

It's an achievement any engineer would gladly add to their CV, but taking out the Best Overall Design Award doesn't guarantee the MIT team extra sway over the makeup of the final Hyperloop pod. All the knowledge gained through the competition will remain open source in a bid to flesh out the most appropriate design.

The winners will be joined by 22 other teams, including groups from the University of Washington, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Waterloo, in the next stage of the competition. This will involve building a working prototype to test on a one-mile (1.6 km) track at SpaceX headquarters in California this coming US summer.

Source: Texas A&M University

14 comments
Just Cause
The next phase will be most exciting, when the theories are tested. The MIT design seems overly complicated to me, hope I'm wrong and it works well.
Derek Howe
I'm looking forward to this summers SpaceX held competitions. This event was more...meh. I want to see some actually prototypes. I think trains in tubes is a great idea, no weather can cause delays. Good luck to em', and hopefully I will be riding on a hyperloop someday.
km4hr
MIT obviously has very smart and capable students but according to their web site they appear to benefit from the support of companies whose entire business is built on similar technologies. How much involvement is not clear but it certainly puts MIT at an advantage that's probably not be available to all competitors. I wonder if the rules have anything to say about outside support.
Donald Vitez
Why use magnets? Magnets are expensive and heavy. Why not employ a self leveling two-sided lifting body to achieve the necessary lift then use a system of slats and air jet nozzles to regulate the boundary layer of air surrounding the lifting body sides and thus distance above and to the sides of the track. The craft could operate in Wing in ground effect mode, at the center of an enclosed rectangular tunnel, without the need for heavy magnets. The craft is better braked when contacting the surface (track) beneath it anyway. It could start from rest by initially contacting the surface beneath it. Then accelerate air using electric ducted fans both atop and above the airfoil like lifting body surface to achieve lift as a linear motor accelerates it down the track. These fans would be powered by way of electromagnetic induction coils placed at the center of the track but not for its entire length. Computers coupled to ultrasonic sensors would be used to measure and regulate the distance between the craft and the surface above and beneath it. The EDFs are only necessary to achieve lift. The craft, being much lighter, could be airborne in just 100 feet and not have to contend with the weight penalty and magnetic field induced drag which will undoubtedly serve to make it less efficient. Once the craft has reached a given speed the inlet ducts of the EDFs would close to form an aero spike and the impeller would be locked in position feeding a hydrogen fueled ram jet that would serve to provide The additional thrust needed to maintain acceleration between stations The boundary layer of air surrounding the lifting body would be controlled by air jets. Upon entering a station, the craft would be rapidly decelerated by the linear induction motor coupled with reverse thrusters. The linear induction motor attached to the bottom half of the rectangular tube would serve two roles, initial acceleration away from one station and toward another and assisted braking when nearing a station. Like the Russian VA-111 SHKVAL supercavitating torpedo, compressed air emitted from the nose of the pod, could envelope a portion of the pod in an air bubble thus greatly reducing friction as the craft travels through the rectangular tunnel.
mhpr262
An acceleration of 2.4g? That is pretty hardcore. They'd better make sure the passengers know what to expect and not admit anybody with a heart defect or claustrophobia.
Edward Vix
Donald Vitez, because the system is based on an evacuated tube, no ground effect or other aerodynamic principles will apply.
Donald Vitez
I do not agree with the evacuated tube concept. Maintaining a vacuum at each station, much less the entire length of the tube, will prove problematic even if the tube employs a means of self sealing. To think that this entire system relying on vacuum, can be easily thwarted by terrorists with nothing more than an armor piercing round, is alarming.
Daniel Harbin
I see a buried system as it will make security easier. In addition any pinholes in the tube will be muted. But, being buried inspection will be more difficult and there are underground utilities and obstacles to overcome. There are some real life problems to overcome besides designing the tube and car.
David A Galler
I think that a more probative design problem in magnetic levitation is in industry as shuttles in heavy industry such as lift sections in ship building .
Donald Vitez
In the system I propose the rectangular tube is not a tube in the purest sense of the word.. It has openings at its sides. These openings allow the heat and exhaust of the Ram jet propulsion system to be taken out of the tunnel that the pod travels inside of. In the system I propose, the craft is acting in ground effect both above and below as well as to the sides of the pod in order to keep it centered within the Tube (above and below flat surface). I understand the idea of eliminating drag by using an evacuated tube, the trouble I have with the concept if found to be technically feasible, is that it is my belief that the costs to produce and maintain such system will far outweigh its increased efficiency. In the system I propose there are essentially two road surfaces, one above and one below between which the pod operates in ground effect,the pod subjected to forces from both a linear induction motor and Ram jet thruster.
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