Hyperloop is a big deal. Called ‘the fifth mode of transportation’ (after cars, trains, boats and planes), Hyperloop combines aspects of all the traditional four, but adds a whole new dimension to them. Imagine it like this: passenger and freight are placed into a capsule. This capsule is inside a near-vacuum tube, and a network of these tubes could stretch between cities such as Edinburgh and London. Here is the new dimension: the capsules fired along this network of tubes would be travelling faster than an aeroplane.
The tube itself is the key. It controls the environment in which the capsule is moving, therefore providing a friction-free enclosed world with no unpredictable obstacles and no adverse weather conditions. Furthermore, the tube itself is suspended in the air on concrete pylons so that it has minimal space requirements and its construction is not limited by the surroundings – be it a farmland or a densely populated urban area, the tube will just stretch above.
Cheaper than trains due to minimal running costs, more sustainable than planes and safer than cars, Hyperloop could effectively get you almost anywhere in the UK within 30 minutes.
Right now, the technology exists. The only (but tremendous) challenge lies in turning this concept into a financially sustainable, marketable product.
The idea was originally put forward to much excitement by the much-revered Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motors back in 2013. Immediately after the announcement, debates started over technical feasibility, while crowdfunding design projects, universities and capital-backed ventures eagerly began building the vision laid out in Musk’s 57-page long white paper entitled ‘Hyperloop Alpha’.
Although Musk initially had stated that none of his companies would be directly involved in the project, SpaceX announced last year that it would accelerate Hyperloop’s development by opening a competition in which academic, professional, and hobbyist teams would present their ideas and test them out in a custom-built test track.
At this part of the story, we can introduce the University of Edinburgh students who came together to form ‘HypED’.
When SpaceX opened their competition, over 1,200 teams said they wanted to participate – including HypED. Together, HypED consists of 30 undergraduate and postgraduate students from the university working on developing the Hyperloop concept to prove the science, to show how it may be designed, and to state why it should be built. While HypED began as a group of engineering students from the University of Edinburgh ready to take on the technical challenges of the task, they soon invited a group of product design students from Edinburgh College of Art to create a comfortable and enjoyable passenger experience.
Out of the 1,200 participating teams, only 120 were invited to a design weekend in Texas held by SpaceX. HypED made the cut and advanced to this next round. The team is one of just two British teams going forward. They will be showcasing their work to judges and are currently looking for sponsors to help build a prototype and test it in the tube built by SpaceX in California. If successful, HypED will be heading there in June 2016.