Two teams of UCF engineering students plan to show off their designs later this month for a 760 mph “Hyperloop” transportation system proposed by entrepreneur Elon Musk.
The founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors first raised the idea for a Hyperloop in 2013. The system would transport passengers between cities in pods that would shoot through a near-vacuum tube on a cushion of air. If successful, the Hyperloop would travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes.
To encourage innovation, SpaceX has organized a competition among university students to design the passenger pods. More than 100 teams from around the world are expected to attend a design competition Jan. 29-30 at Texas A&M University. Judges will decide which designs will move on to compete again this summer at a Hyperloop test track being built next to SpaceX headquarters in California.
The two teams of University of Central Florida students are each designing a subsystem for the passenger pods.
A team known as the “Pod Brakers” is made up of mechanical engineering students Alberto Bhoge, Saad Dawood, Jonathan Illescas and Eduardo Larrazabal. They’re designing an emergency braking system for the passenger pods.
Illescas said he and his teammates wanted to be involved when they heard about Musk’s idea.
“This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in transportation technology in a really long time,” Illescas said.
Members of the Pod Brakers team are still looking for contributions and sponsorships to fund the costs of their travel to the Texas A&M competition in College Station, Texas, as well as the cost of building a working prototype of their braking system. The team has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money.
The second team, known as “HyperSQUAD,” includes mechanical engineering students Marcus Cunningham, James Medlin, Roscelin Figueroa and Bradley Sheeley. They’re designing ergonomic seats for passengers.
“The pod will be going more than 700 mph, so having the passengers feel safe is important,” said Figueroa, adding that their design focuses on both safety and comfort. Passenger planes typically cruise about 550 to 600 mph.
While the two UCF teams are working on different systems, they are collaborating. For instance, the HyperSQUAD team used the Pod Brakers’ estimate of the forces produced by emergency braking to determine how strong the passenger seats must be.
The College of Engineering & Computer Science signed up to participate in the competition last year.
“Our senior design faculty last fall intentionally assembled multidisciplinary teams for the Hyperloop competition to ensure all aspects of engineering were considered. For example, mechanical engineering students were tasked with guiding the design aspects, while students from Industrial Engineering and Management Systems created the initial project plan to ensure on-time completion and best practices, including optimal processes, scheduling, budget, and communication,” said Charles Reilly, associate dean for Academic Affairs.
Neither Musk nor SpaceX is building a commercial Hyperloop system, but are pushing the idea and sharing information. More than one company has answered the call, including two startups: Hyperloop Technologies Inc. and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. HTI has already begun work on its own three-mile test track outside Las Vegas.
For the UCF teams, the Hyperloop projects serve a second purpose: the senior design projects that all engineering students must complete – including a prototype – before they graduate. But the idea of contributing to a large-scale technology breakthrough is reason enough to get involved, they said.
“SpaceX wants as many people as possible to participate,” Figueroa said. “So many people working together – that’s how innovation happens.”