A 24-squad com­pe­ti­tion even­tu­ally could make such a trans­porta­tion sys­tem vi­able.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ethan Mill­man

Colorado School of Mines is rac­ing to fin­ish its all-elec­tric de­sign for the SpaceX Hy­per­loop Pod Com­pe­ti­tion in Cal­i­for­nia.

With the dead­line just over two weeks away, the Colorado School of Mines hy­per­loop team has to beat the clock be­fore rac­ing against its com­peti­tors.

Team Dig­ger­loop is push­ing to fin­ish its all-elec­tric hy­per­loop de­sign for the SpaceX Hy­per­loop Pod Com­pe­ti­tion in Cal­i­for­nia at the end of Au­gust. Though it has less money, ex­pe­ri­ence and man­power than other teams, Dig­ger­loop team mem­bers re­main un­fazed.

“We’re pretty con­fi­dent with where we’re at,” Diger­loop lead en­gi­neer Karl Grueschow said. “And we’re pretty sure it’s go­ing to work.”

Right now, the team’s hy­per­loop pod, the fu­tur­is­tic travel con­cept pop­u­lar­ized by SpaceX and Tesla chief ex­ec­u­tive Elon Musk, is lit­tle more than a few plas­tic pipes held to­gether with screws. The team has un­til Aug. 18, a bit longer than two weeks, to make its own ve­hi­cle.

“Ev­ery­thing’s in man­u­fac­tur­ing right now, but once all that stuff gets here, the as­sem­bly shouldn’t take all that long,” Grueschow said. “We’ve been hit­ting de­lays left and right, but that’s pro­ject man­age­ment, right? That’s how it goes. If we have to leave a lit­tle late for the test­ing week, that’s the way it is, but we’re go­ing to get there. We can do it.”

The com­pe­ti­tion, now in its sec­ond year, calls for each team to build a pod and make it go as fast as pos­si­ble. The teams also have to suc­cess­fully stop their pods with­out crash­ing. The ve­hi­cles are au­ton­o­mous and will not have pas­sen­gers.

Fi­nal­ists were se­lected in April, and 24 teams will un­leash their pods in a tubu­lar course at SpaceX’s head­quar­ters in Hawthorne, Calif. The idea of the com­pe­ti­tion is to help jump-start tech­nol­ogy that could even­tu­ally make a hy­per­loop trans­porta­tion sys­tem vi­able.

When Musk in­tro­duced the idea of a hy­per­loop travel sys­tem four years ago, he de­scribed an above-ground tun­nel sys­tem with ve­hi­cles ca­pa­ble of reach­ing 700 miles per hour speed­ing through tun­nels that mix vacuum tubes and elec­tro­mag­netic sus­pen­sion. The test track, how­ever, will not have this tech­nol­ogy.

The chal­lenges for Team Dig­ger­loop are real. Though it is get­ting its fund­ing from Mines, the team still needs do­na­tions and an­tic­i­pates its bud­get to run as high as $100,000 — $30,000 more than its ex­pec­ta­tion in April.

And while some com­pet­ing teams are made up of mul­ti­ple schools — AZLoop is com­prised of four schools from Ari­zona — Dig­ger­loop is alone. Some teams have com­peted be­fore, but not Dig­ger­loop.

Some teams have bud­gets twice as big, pro­ject man­ager Austin Genger said. With a con­sid­er­ably tighter bud­get, Dig­ger­loop is us­ing cheaper and more read­ily avail­able ma­te­ri­als to build the pod.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing teams in the first com­pe­ti­tion had more hoops to jump through. Par­tic­i­pants this year have one goal, to make their un­manned ve­hi­cle go re­ally, re­ally fast.

The team wants its hy­per­loop pod to top 280 miles per hour, but that’s not even the hard­est part, team rep­re­sen­ta­tives said. The race will take less than 30 sec­onds,

and they need to abruptly stop the pod by the end.

“Not only do you have to ac­cel­er­ate it up to speed, but you have to stop it, too,” Grueschow said. “And any weight you add onto this thing you have to stop, so we have to keep the weight down. Ev­ery lit­tle bit counts. We’re stop­ping at four G’s, which means ev­ery­thing is go­ing to weigh about four times as much.”

Although hy­per­loop tech­nol­ogy is far from be­com­ing a fea­si­ble means of trans­porta­tion, it could have its place in uses pre­vi­ously only thought pos­si­ble in sci-fi.

“These pods could es­sen­tially start con­nect­ing fa­cil­i­ties on Mars if we started col­o­niz­ing and re­search out there,” Genger said. “Or if we are to start build­ing ex­ces­sively large space­craft that are miles long, we could use these to get from one end to the other.”

Mem­bers of the team said the op­por­tu­nity to pave the way for this tech­nol­ogy still hasn’t sunk in yet.

“It’s awe-in­spir­ing,” Genger said. “Not only do we have the abil­ity to work on this stuff, but that we’re here on the lead­ing edge to help bring this to fruition. It’s ex­cit­ing.”

Hy­oung Chang, The Den­ver Post

From left, Colorado School of Mines risk man­ager Chris­tian Grund­for, pro­ject man­ager Austin Genger and head en­gi­neer Karl Grueschow of Team Dig­ger­Loop check the de­sign of the pod for the SpaceX Hy­per­loop com­pe­ti­tion.

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