Aussies compete in Hyperloop race

Australia has made it into an international competition designed to help make Elon Musk’s vision of a super-fast, futuristic terrestrial transport system dubbed the Hyperloop a reality.

The US entrepreneur and SpaceX founder developed the idea for the Hyperloop, a proposed mode of high-speed travel in which ‘pods’ travel through a system of vacuum tubes at aircraft speed, in 2012.

SpaceX announced the Hyperloop Pod Competition in 2015 with the goal of encouraging innovation and producing functional prototypes for the “pod” that would eventually carry passengers and freight.

In a 2018 White paper Musk says the concept, based roughly on the concept of old pneumatic tubes that used to send mail and packages within buildings, has the potential to become a “fifth mode of transport” after planes, trains, cars and boats.

A team of engineering students from UNSW beat more than 2000 entrants from around the world with their pod design to become the only team to represent Australia at the competition in California this month.

A transport game changer

Project manager Harry Zhang, a 4th year Aerospace Engineering student, says the Hyperloop concept could be a game changer with the ability to transform cities and the way people move about.

“Hyperloop is basically a vacuum train where you hop in pods, and these would be shuttling you between major cities at the speed of sound,” he says. “So it has major implications for how we access work, how you think about travel and totally disrupts the (urban transport) supply chain.”

Technical manager Francis McDonald said in designing the pod the UNSW team reused some the technology used in the sUNSWift solar car, which last year set a world record for low energy consumption in an electric car after driving from Perth to Sydney.

“We’re trying to develop the most basic prototypes of it, just proving that it’s possible to move in a vacuum tube at absurd speeds.”

It was also designed with aesthetics as well as aerodynamics in mind, Structures Lead Yasmin Zaman said.


The competition on July 21 will see prototype pods designed by 20 university teams from around the world shoot through 1 .5 km vacuum tube.

They’ll be judged on maximum speed and their ability to decelerate to standstill within 30 meter of the end of the tube.

The Aussies will be competing against 19 other teams from the US, India, Spain, Switzerland, Scotland, Canada and Zurich, as well as the current Hyperloop world champions from the Technical University of Munich, who last year set a record of 467 km per hour.

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