Take A Look At The Hyperloop Competition Entries

If you are a follower of futuristic high-speed transport systems you’ll have had your fill of high-speed trains, you’ll mourn the passing of Concorde and be looking forward to future supersonic passenger aircraft. Unless you have a small fortune to pay for a spaceplane tourist flight at an unspecified time in the future, life is going to feel a little slow.

There is one spark of light in this relative gloom though, in the form of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. A partially evacuated tube in which vehicles, or “pods” can accelerate to very high speeds. SpaceX may not be pursuing it themselves, but they’ve made it available for others and to promote it they are running a competition in which they have invited teams to submit pod designs. And as a significant number of teams have made it through the first round and are prepared to compete outside SpaceX’s headquarters, Business Insider have a look at all the teams and their prototype pods.

With a couple of exceptions from a commercial entry and a high school, all of the entrants are backed by universities. They hail from all over the world, as far away as the Netherlands, Japan, and Australia, and their craft will compete in timed runs over a three-quarter mile scaled-down Hyperloop tube constructed on the highway outside the SpaceX lot. It is interesting to note the different design strategies taken, such as the choice of magnetic or pneumatic levitation, or even in some cases riding on conventional wheels.

Whether or not we will all be using Hyperloops in decades to come or whether it will go the way of the 19th century atmospheric railways remains to be seen, however it remains one of the more exciting emerging transport technologies of the moment. We’ve reported in the past on plans for a different test track, we’ll try to keep you updated with any future developments.

40 thoughts on “Take A Look At The Hyperloop Competition Entries

    1. it is possibly the start of actual launch rails, now he just needs a big enough mountain, it is anything but daft, even as pure transport, under ideal conditions this could even replace air transport.

      a vacuum shouldn’t be that much of a challenge any more, considering the scale at which we already do use vacuum.

      1. It is the amount that has to be pumped and the energy required. On the other hand, if it carries the equivalent of 100 plane loads at a time, then pumps run by the equivalent of 200 big turbofans is reasonable.

      1. Radiation protection? The atmosphere does save us from a lot of nasty fast particles and X-rays. Building a tunnel would allow the rock to protect you, whereas on the surface you’d have to build the shielding into the vehicle, which would be heavy.

  1. I put the possibility of this system of transport being implemented in any major way as next to zero. While the technology may well be possible, little attention is being given to the economics which are in essence the same as high-speed passenger rail. Anyone that bothers to dig down into the latter quickly realises that these factors are far more complex than they seem.

    1. that might be true in the us, long distance rail was one of the major pillars of industrialization, to say that the very concept isnt economical is a bit of a stretch.

      if you limit yourself to pure passenger transport then the speed would have to compete with air travel, if it could compete i think even that might be viable.
      if you accept that the network is used for cargo as well then the economics already favour a faster system of bulk transport, air transport is expensive, trucks are inefficient but practical, cargo trains are fairly slow if you include handling, there are plenty of niches where a system like this could supplement current transport.

      1. That’s the superficial conclusion, however, as I wrote above, if you start to dig into the issue a bit, many of the broad assumptions start to crumble.

        First on the speed issue. These is very little in the way of freight that needs this sort of speed and the bulk of that which does, like perishable goods suffers from the same general issue as passenger travel does, and that is not transit times, but stops. Which uncovers the second issue, in that while movement between high density population centers can be quick, not servicing intermediate waypoints both limits traffic and undermines the case for moving perishable freight, which now has to be trucked into a terminus (and then out at the other end) and handled extensively changing modes.

        High speed rail is not viable in North America because you simply cannot cut out intermediate destinations and have enough traffic to justify the service, and if there are too many stops, transit times become non-competitive over existing modes. These are the same issues that would arise with these long distance subways. And I refer to subways to bring up another point that is often overlooked: in many cases the cost of the stations are far greater that the tunnels and rails connecting them. Having many stops means having many stations and system costs can explode.

        Finally there are huge political issues around routing for a mega project of this nature, because it will be crystal-clear that those communities on the line will be far more advantaged than those off and the fights will be epic. My urban community is planning a tram system out to a major suburban area which is desperately needed and the fighting, as it sinks in which towns are going to see their property values go up, and which are going to go down is heating up. It would be the same with high-speed rail, and the same for the hyperloop.

          1. I’m not sure that this is as trivial a solution as you might think, if for no other reason than the cost of adding stations driving the cost up. Rail tried something similar with the self-powered Bud cars and that didn’t work out too well there, (although to be fair there were other factors involved)

        1. a lot of that is dependent on how the actual system is laid out and i did preface the above with maybe not in america, that doesnt prevent it from being a viable system somewhere else.

          i dont know if it will be a viable system or not, there are too many unknowns as it is, i always saw the tube as being the biggest economic issue with the hyperloop, if they dont find a way of mass producing tubes they will never get anywhere and this is just one of many issues, but none of them to me are enough to outright condemn the concept.

          1. Well we are not even considering the engineering aspects of this system which are considerable and even if possible, may not be practical, and if practical may not be cost-effective over a reasonable payback interval. I was only pointing out that the underlying premises of high-speed fixed route transportation networks are often oversimplified and even when the technical aspects are solved, there are other issues, just as important, around its deployment that are often very hard to solve.

        2. An interesting point of where the tail determined the dog. Just think of how urban planning would have been different if things like light rail had existed when cities were being built.

          1. Oh it did.

            Then GM and other vehicle manufacturers conspired to kill it all. Even my tiny town had a pretty extensive trolley system that got bought out, shut down, and replaced with buses… built by GM.

          2. They did almost everywhere in the US. Trollys, cable cars, inter-urban rail, etc. They were all private and though GM gets the blame, before that, local governments took over these systems, often to serve the “under-served”, which were under-served because they were economically unviable. So naturally, the systems declined and failed. Besides, you don’t have to move train tracks to change a bus route.

  2. The Hyperloop is essentially a SINGLE POINT of FAILURE! We are at WAR against Terrorists who can disable such designs with a single act! Same goes with centrally controlled Driverless Cars homed on a single overseer (that is also a SPY on where you go and what you do). Human driven cars and passenger aircraft are (yes, arguably) a much better solution given this Terrorist threat. In a Perfect World, I love Hyperloop. Today in the Real World – I don’t think so.

    1. If you don’t agree with my SINGLE POINT of FAILURE argument against Hyperloop, look at this video:

      This is what ISIS is doing with essentially weaponized off-the-shelf aerial drones. Imagine what they can do with this simple fire and forget weapons against the Hyperloop design – a semi-evacuated tube carrying large numbers of passengers at high speed. Imagine swarms of these drones. Remember these drones are CHEAP and EASY to deploy. Roadways can also be victims of such attacks, but large numbers of casualties are limited, steel railways (if designed and maintained properly) will survive such attacks as track discontinuity is automatically detected before large-scale catastrophes will occur. Individual aircraft carrying passengers are very secure against this type of attack in comparison (remember NO transportation is in-vulnerable). But the likes of Hyperloop IS NOT – as long as it is elevated and exposed above ground.

      1. Here are a few factors against your argument.

        Firstly, the drones they are using are rarely fire and forget. They require a waypoint and the ability to be triggered to start the timer on their explosive. Even if they had a rudimentary autopilot as many commercially available drones do, unless they had an output on the board to signal when it was at the destination, they would have issues with timers due to delays, or need someone watching to manually start it.

        Secondly, if the drone encountered an issue, it would attempt to return to it’s origin or home point, giving it a wonderful failure mode of blowing yourself up.

        Thirdly, the payloads available are limited, as are the configurations of destructive devices. Unless you modify the frame and explosive to place a shaped charge against the tube, you’re more likely to scratch the surface. A tube designed to hold against a full atmosphere of pressure permanently is quite strong, and for the sake of constructing it, will have a number of replaceable sections, unlike tunnels. So fragmentation grenades would usually scratch the paint rather than cause a catastrophic failure. At worst, a shaped charge will only destroy the segments it is placed on, with the drones they are using likely being able to take out at most 2 sections by detonating on a coupler.

        Fourthly: If “swarms” of these drones were deployed, it is fairly easy to track down who was acquiring large volumes of anything destructive. Add drones in, and it’s even easier, as there are serial numbers, and manufacturers and distributors could track these if incentivized to. First time that happens, and stores will end up told to record a serial number and ID to go with each sale, as well as a federal registration number or help complete the form for registration. The ongoing shenanigans by a small fraction of the drone community is already pushing laws towards that point.

        Fifthly, unless the drone was designed to attach a charge as a specific point and attitude on the tube, even most shaped charges could be dealt with by constructing a large fiberglass tube around the transit tube, which could also serve to lower the pressure differential of the tube in normal operations, meaning that you could require the penetrator or shock-wave to travel through a reduced pressure environment a largish distance, eliminate magnetic attachment to the tube, and make it much more difficult to attack the tube as you could no longer be sure that any point or attitude would ultimately contact the transit tube.

        Sixthly, in the event of a failure of vacuum, the laws of physics would cause most of these cars to break to a stop and begin actively applying force AWAY from the breach. Each car would also be self-pressurized, and thus somewhat sturdy, not to mention that individual cars at high speed would be a very difficult target, and that’s the current aim of the system.

        Before invoking “Terrorists”, “Drones”, “Terrorist drones”, or “Think of the Children”, how about you think about the practicalities of your modus operandi and the infrastructure. You want to shut rail down? Just drop rebar along the tracks between the rails, or use thermite to melt divots or holes in the rail. Roads? Difficult for little traveled ones, but a nasty crash will close a highway and could be easily caused by a poor or malicious driver, much less using a carbomb on an overpass. Subways? Break the water main near a station, and you can start flooding them out (They will have dewatering equipment, but if you targeted utilities with a large surface charge, you can both break the water main and potentially shut off power to a station).

        Engineers are not stupid people. Anything can be targeted. Anything can be protected. Infrastructure, when given a chance to be designed rather than rushed or evolved is easy to harden and make redundant.

  3. Hyperloop ain’t gonna happen folks, Thermal expansion would make it impossible to scale up, Remember the tube is evacuated of air so it needs to be solid, Metal expands when it gets hot. Also have you ever heard of a vacuum cannon? It’s where you get all the air out of a tube with a ball inside then pop the tube and the ball flies out at a great speed. Now imagine miles upon miles of Hyperloop all it takes is for a little bomb to burst the tube open and everyone is dead.
    The idea has been around for over 100 years. Elon Musk just came up with a name for it and said it was his idea. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vactrain There is a reason no one has bothered to build one since it was first dreamt up.
    Elon Musk is a great guy I mean SpaceX, Tesla, Paypal but no Hyperloop you ain’t gonna work.

      1. Pipelines use occasional zig-zags to allow for thermal expansion on long runs. A tube pod traveling at high speed can’t take such turns. But corrugation in the wall can compensate for length expansion.

        1. also pipes have stronger outward strength than inward pulling vacuum stress. You can try this yourself try crushing a bit of copper pipe then try pushing inside walls to stretch the pipe. Which one do you think takes the most energy?

      2. Pipelines carry fluids, gases etc, hyperloop is an evacuated pipe (no air) carrying fluids at modest pressures isn’t too hard. Pipelines have gaskets every so often along the line that allow for thermal growth and shrinkage. Hyperloop would not be able to use the same technique as it would destroy the structural integrity of the tube.

  4. Actual engineer who works in aerospace here, I’ll offer my opinion…
    Hyperloop is beyond stupid!
    1) Plain unreinforced steel tube is vulnerable to crumpling if it receives a small dent. I actually went as far as running some FEA sims of the tube being destroyed – although its got a safety factor of around 10 (probably not a coincidence) at rest with zero distortion, as soon as the tube is knocked out of circular it can crumple in a cascading failure that takes out an entire tube section up to the adjacent expansion joints (something like 5 to 10 meters length in this design). Meanwhile a 7 to 10cm thick reinforced concrete tube would cost slightly less, is an off-the -shelf item designed for storm water drains and available with certified crush strength that gives a safety factor of approaching 100, with cascading failure being almost impossible and about an order of magnitude greater impact energy required to cause a perforation.
    2) The air bearings idea in the original hyperloop white paper is the biggest con since eestor and emdrive. Because a) turbomachinery is not cheap, and a compressor of the size described even less so. b) Mr Musk describes using water -> steam to cool/intercool the compressed air, this has the _slight_ problem that the resulting steam volume is huge, as in many time larger than the pod volume. c) the batteries need to be recharged, doubling the number of pods that have to be manufactured, unless swappable batteries are used, in which case it “just” doubles the number of very expensive batteries. d) Lithium batteries last at most a few thousand cycles, ok for a Tesla car, but Hyperloop the batteries will last less than 18months, a huge operating cost penalty.

    Thats not to say that semi evacuated tube transport is a bad idea, I would say it can easily be made to work for a tiny faction of the cost of hyperloop. Here’s how:
    1) Use reinforced concrete tube, probably not off-the-shelf sewer or storm water pipe, as its design requirements differ slightly from pure compressive forces, increasing its cost. For a two tube system redesigned tube should cost less than $1k/meter in v large quantities.
    2) Use conventional steel rail with two continuously welded rails mounted inside the tube using conventional rail clips.
    3) Run of order +-5kV down the rails, this is a high enough voltage that it can supply power to multiple pods over several km between each AC->DC step down unit (perhaps powered by 15kV 3 phase running through conventional aluminium conductors in a external cable tray between the tubes, although this would require a higher voltage grid interconnection every 100km or so). However, the electric field between the two rails would not be strong enough to cause breakdown.
    4) Reduce the operating speed to 500km/h or so. Although this makes the journey a bit longer, its around 250% of the speed of the best high speed rail, and only 50% longer journey time than Musks “design”. This reduction in speed massively simplifies the aerodynamics, its now possible to use interconnections between the two tubes to reduce “pistoning” effects. This is how the problem is solved in the channel tunnel. Interconnections every 50 to 100m could be made using a precast reinforced concrete module. These modules would also be a perfect place to install emergency escape ports.
    5) The DC down the rails means that conventional solid steel axle boogies cannot be used, some sort of electrical isolation would need to be incorporated, but some conventional high speed rail (e.g. ICE) already has electrically non conductive axle systems. A slightly more tricky issue would be powering the propulsion motor, climate control system, lighting and infotainment. One solution would be to have a spinning propulsion motor with spinning drive electronics on one axle (similar to designs used for high power generators), and aux power take off generator/emergency propulsion motor on the other. Alternatively brushes mounted inside pressurized axle covers could be used for power takeoff, and all the electronics mounted on the chassis (some soviet era satellites used similar arrangements for tracking antenna connections).
    6) The main problems limiting the speed of conventional high speed rail at present are a) pantograph stability at high speed – solved here using DC down the rails, and b) boogie stability. Maintaining boogie stability over a wide speed range with only passive techniques requires progressively more excessive track straightness requirements as the speed increases. However, this problem can easily be bypassed using active steering, or to a lesser extent just with active damping. Bombardier have done a lot of research in this area and aiui have tested a 550km boogie with “steering assist”.
    In a concrete tube the potential for a catastrophic derailment is massively reduced, so the consequences of a system failure are less severe than if such a system was used in conventional rail at 500km/h.

    Some issues that were almost completely side stepped in the white paper are climate/oxygen/CO2 control and safety/evacuation, but it should be possible to make a hyperloop style system that is much safer than an aircraft, in fact the tube should reduce the risk of derailment, offer a carefully controlled environment and potentially allow it to be safer than conventional high speed rail. Climate control is outside my area of expertises, possibly some sort of rebreather style system might work? Also maybe using water/slush ice as a heat sink might be most cost effective, there will be tens of kW of water heat to get rid of.

    tl;dr Hyperloop is a non starter but simpler, similar designs may work with a lot of effort.

    1. just to add: in Europe they build an ICE network on top of existing infrastructure compatible with existing railways. Speed is going towards 300 km/h. Upgrading existing systems sound like a much more doable concept for me than creating something totally new.

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