Team set to compete in the Hyperloop

EPFLoop team with EPFL president Martin Vetterli.  Alain Herzog/EPFL

EPFLoop team with EPFL president Martin Vetterli. Alain Herzog/EPFL

A team of EPFL students is one of 20 selected to take part in the Hyperloop Pod Competition this summer. The goal is to design a transport pod that can achieve the highest speed possible inside a vacuum tube - and then successfully decelerate.

One day we may be able to cross Europe in a pod travelling 1,000 kilometers per hour through a vacuum tube. In the meantime, a team of EPFL students has a more immediate challenge: they must develop a prototype pod within the next three months that will compete in the Hyperloop Pod Competition in July. The EPFLoop team has the support of the school’s Senior Management and is being supervised by Professor Mario Paolone at the Distributed Electrical Systems Laboratory, with Swissmetro project coordinator Marcel Jufer serving in an advisory role. The team members introduced themselves at an event at the Rolex Forum on Thursday night. "We may be outsiders, but we can bring in a fresh perspective," says Denis Tudor, the EPFLoop team manager.

The Hyperloop Pod Competition was launched in 2015 by billionaire Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX. He wants to create a new mode of transport whereby pods zip through vacuum tubes at speeds of up to 1,000 km/h. And he set up this competition - open primarily to university students - through SpaceX in order to test the technical feasibility of various aspects of his concept. The 2018 edition challenges students to come up with a design that can travel through a 1.5 km-long tube as fast as possible without crashing upon arrival.

Who can do better than 323 km/h across 1.5 km?

Out of the 5,000 teams that submitted proposals, just 20 were selected. "All of the selected teams have already competed once, except EPFL," says Tudor. The winning pod last year, by TU Munich, reached a speed of 323 km/h. "I’m sure we can do better," says Tudor, who took part in the competition twice with another team during a stint in Silicon Valley.

The EPFL team’s design is being kept under wraps - all we know is that it impressed the competition’s selection committee. The team comprises around 50 students in mechanical engineering, electric propulsion, computer simulation, avionics, electrical engineering, aerodynamics, design and other disciplines. "Now we need to build the prototype as quickly as possible. We are under enormous pressure, and the hardest part is that we don’t have full control over all the elements," adds Tudor, himself a PhD student in electrical engineering.

The competition will be held on a test ramp near the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on 22 July 2018. Competition winners receive no cash prizes, and they must hand over the rights to their technology to SpaceX.

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