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Informatics students contribute to developing transport of the future

HYPED (Edinburgh Hyperloop Society Team) with their custom-made prototype pod, affectionately named Poddy II, were among six best teams in the world to be invited to SpaceX for their annual Hyperloop Competition.

The HYPED pod

Poddy II was built by University of Edinburgh students who are members of HYPED, a student society dedicated to accelerating the development of Hyperloop and implementing the technology in the UK. HYPED students come from different backgrounds and schools: Edinburgh College of Art, School of Law, Business School, School of Engineering, School of Informatics, School of Mathematics, School of Physics and Astronomy. HYPED encourages everyone to join their society because getting involved is the best way to learn. Aside from technical team dedicated for the Hyperloop Pod Competition, they also have commercial, outreach, sponsorship and creatives teams. This year after the exams in May, over 50 active members of the society were working on constructing and assembling all components of Poddy II for the competition in California.

Poddy II prototype

The plan was to build a realistic Hyperloop pod prototype that is also scalable. The pod is a complete maglev system, built with Halbach arrays for levitation and Halbach (electrodynamic) wheels for propulsion, thus minimising friction. The design includes a pressure vessel large enough for a life-size dummy (called Dumminic) resting comfortably on a leather seat. All components are designed to be modular to increase the flexibility in design and manufacturing. Last but not least, a robust software system is developed for autonomous navigation and control systems. The resulting pod is 3.6 x 0.75 x 1.2 metres in dimension - one of the largest pods among all competing teams. To keep the pod as light as possible, it has a carbon fibre chassis which also gives it other advantages such as high stiffness, high tensile strength, and high temperature tolerance.

What is Hyperloop?

But what is Hyperloop? It is Elon Musk’s concept for the future of mass transportation. The concept would see electrically propelled pods travel autonomously through a near-vacuum tube. The pods will be able to reach speeds comparable to aircraft, and could see a journey such as Edinburgh to London shortened to 50 minutes. Hyperloop is gathering global interest and investment, with companies such as Virgin Hyperloop One, HTT, and Arrivo founded to build the technology. Governments around the world are supporting the technology, with progress developing in the UAE, the Netherlands, Finland, India, Russia and the United States.

HYPED pod and Elon Musk
The HYPED pod and Elon Musk

Transport of the future

According to Isabella Chen, HYPED member from the School of Informatics, when it gets built, it will become one of the most important modes of transportation. Traffic and pollution caused by transportation have been some of the most pressing and yet unsolvable problems for the past decade in countries where transportation is an integral part of everyday life. Scientists from NASA's Glenn Research Centre in Ohio conducted a feasibility study of Hyperloop and concluded that “estimates of energy consumption, passenger throughput, and mission analyses all support Hyperloop as a faster and cheaper alternative to short-haul flights.” Hyperloop could therefore become a sustainable solution to many of the existing societal problems by reducing both journey times and traffic congestion.

Being HYPED member

Isabella says of her time in HYPED: “At first, I thought we would spend all of our time designing and manufacturing the prototype, but HYPED is actually a lot more than that. Aside from regular socials, there have been plenty of events - mostly to introduce HYPED and to promote the Hyperloop technology - which members could participate in. Our society does not only focus on the technological aspects of Hyperloop, but also promoting this concept and making it a reality through research projects and case studies. This is important because instead of just making a prototype, we also care about the wider vision and research methods to increase the applicability of Hyperloop in the UK, and thus improving the traffic conditions in the future.”

Award winners

HYPED are by no means newbies: they have won Subsystem Technical Excellence Award at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition I and were finalists twice afterwards. They are winners of the Virgin Hyperloop One Global Challenge in 2016/17, having proposed a route connecting Edinburgh to London, with a total journey time of 50 minutes. Their proposal discussed the feasibility of Hyperloop in the UK, highlighting the social, economic and environmental impacts. Out of 2600 entries, HYPED is one of ten winners across the globe, is one of two UK winners, and is the only student team to have won the Global Challenge.

This year they have met Elon Musk himself who visited Poddy II during the competition and discussed the future of the competition with him as well as the possibility of SpaceX expansion into Europe.

Into the future

This summer, a Hyperloop startup called Continuum Industries has been launched by members of HYPED, and they are working on digitalising Hyperloop for optimisation of cost, performance and deliverability.

Relevant links

HYPED website