What’s the story, Mr. Houter? Making Elon Musk’s pipe dreams come true
A team from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has built a ground-breaking prototype capsule of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. What happens next? Tim Houter, team captain for the TU Delft project, keeps us in the “loop”...
For the past 18 months we’ve been involved in the world’s latest student competition. This is the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, where teams from all over the world have been designing and building a capsule that will be able to travel at speeds of up to 745 miles per hour (1,199 kph) in the Hyperloop transportation system.
The Hyperloop has the potential to completely revolutionize transport because it will massively cut down travel time between cities. Apart from passengers, it will carry freight and has the potential to take lots of vehicles off the road, solving traffic congestion. We’re a 30-strong team with expertise across the board, from aerospace, design and mechanical engineers to architecture students, physicists and economists. What excited us most is that we’ve been working on something that has never been done before. We felt like pioneers in the 1960s trying to reach for the moon.
In one year we’ve designed and built a half-scale hyperloop prototype, with a capsule that will float above the track carrying eight half-scale passengers. In January 2016, we were delighted when it was announced that we had won Elon Musk’s Pod Innovation Award, and had come second in the overall Design and Build category, earning us the right to enter the test site section of the competition.
It’s been a whirlwind since then. In June 2016, in the Netherlands, we presented the capsule to the world’s press, and that was the best moment for us as a team. Then, in October, DHL helped us transport our prototype capsule from the Netherlands to SpaceX, Elon Musk’s California headquarters. Not an easy challenge. First of all it’s a big capsule, almost five meters in length. Secondly, we use magnets in the design and there are very strict requirements about magnetic fields in aircraft, so a steel box had to be specially made for them to travel in. The pod itself also traveled by plane in a big case surrounded by foam so it wouldn’t be damaged by vibrations.
The Delft pod achieved the highest overall score in January’s 2017 tests, winning the Design and Construction Award. The final phase of the competition will take place this summer.
People have concerns that the Hyperloop won’t look attractive because it’s a tube built on pillars. But in Japan and China they are building railways this way, and they look good. People can walk underneath the Hyperloop so areas don’t have to be closed off, like they do for railway lines. Also, less damage is done to the ground in the construction process. One thing is for certain – Hyperloop is coming, and when it does, you’d better be part of it!
Published: February 2017
Image: Joost Weddepohl photography