CMU Hyperloop team designs pod

Josh Brown Jan 25, 2016

Carnegie Mellon University Hyperloop team gave a quick overview presentation of their entry for the 2016 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition on Friday, Jan. 22.

The ultimate goal of a Hyperloop system is to “revolutionize travel and connection between people,” according to Michael Hill, a masters student in the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon. The purpose of the Hyperloop system is “to create a tube connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles” where one could travel at speeds approaching 760 mph, condensing the entire 386 mile journey into 30 minutes of mach-speed travel.

Elon Musk, the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, has outsourced this problem to universities and engineering teams far and wide in an effort to make this futuristic dream a reality. As one of the 100 teams sorted out of 1,500 to be in the semi-finals, Carnegie Mellon Hyperloop is well on its way to making a functioning Hyperloop happen.

The end goal for Carnegie Mellon’s Hyperloop team is to receive the okay to build a functioning Hyperloop pod and compete against 10 to 14 other teams in California this coming June. The team began its work in May and has since grown to include over 75 members, not only from engineering backgrounds but from design and business as well. This robust team has allowed Carnegie Mellon Hyperloop to raise a tremendous amount of support and money — $25,000 so far. If they make it through to the next stage of the competition, they will be looking at a $100,000 price tag for their Hyperloop pod prototype build.

The presentation, given by the project manager Anshuman Kumar, a masters student in the Integrated Innovation Institute, focused on the internal mechanics of the pod’s design. The system was designed to move at low levels of friction utilizing an air bearing system that has never been used before in mass transport. Air bearings use a thin layer of pressurized air, which allows two surfaces to support an object’s load, similar to the way an air-hockey table supports a puck.

Since air bearings are a contact-free system, they steer clear of many problems relating to friction, lubrication, and wear. They also have high-speed applications which are prime for Hyperloop purposes. This system is an interesting choice, considering the low-pressure, low air density conditions within the Hyperloop tube itself. One of the main balancing acts facing the team, it seems, is the balance between having enough air for the bearings to function and having as little air as possible to create drag and slow down the pod.

One of the most enterprising features of the Carnegie Mellon Hyperloop team’s progress is that they do not seem to be phased by obstacles. Every time the team encountered a particular component that was nowhere to be found on the free market, they created their own; from the air bearing system to the air storage tank to the re-purposed helicopter compressor, the designs are one-of-a-kind. For every problem, it seems, the team is working on a feasible solution.

The CMU Hyperloop team will travel to Texas A&M University this coming weekend, Jan. 29-30, to present their designs to SpaceX and Tesla engineers in an attempt to move into the final round of prototype construction and the final race event in June.