VCU com­petes to build trans­porta­tion fu­ture

The Progress-Index - - EDUCATION - By Caitlin Bar­bieri Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

RICH­MOND – The fu­ture of high-speed travel is be­ing de­signed by col­lege stu­dents world­wide for the third SpaceX Hyper­loop Pod Com­pe­ti­tion, and along­side some of the top engi­neer­ing schools is Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity.

Hyper­loop at VCU is one of 20 fi­nal­ists in the SpaceX com­pe­ti­tion. The team is com­pet­ing with such schools as Pur­due Univer­sity, Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin and Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh to build the fastest hyper­loop pod that can suc­cess­fully de­cel­er­ate.

“We’re pretty much the un­der­dogs of the com­pe­ti­tion,” said Arthur Chadwick, pres­i­dent of Hyper­loop at VCU. “Other teams were in this com­pe­ti­tion from the very be­gin­ning, so they have years of work al­ready.”

He said the VCU team is the youngest in the com­pe­ti­tion.

First pro­posed by bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur Elon Musk, the hyper­loop is a high-speed trans­porta­tion sys­tem that in­volves pods mov­ing through tubes trans­port­ing pas­sen­gers and freight be­tween cities. These low-pres­sure tubes can be above or be­low ground, and pods would be able to travel over 700 mph.

Con­struc­tion of the first full-scale pod be­gan a year ago and is ex­pected to mea­sure ap­prox­i­mately 100 feet in length and 9 feet in di­am­e­ter.

In Septem­ber, Chadwick, a sopho­more me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer ma­jor, hosted an in­ter­est meet­ing for Hyper­loop at VCU. Within six months, he and a team of ap­prox­i­mately 50 stu­dents de­signed a pod.

“I wanted some­thing I could dive more into engi­neer­ing with. I didn’t want to think of engi­neer­ing as this neg­a­tive at­mos­phere where you are do­ing equa­tions all day,” Chadwick said. “I wanted to have an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar that went hand-in-hand with my stud­ies.”

The SpaceX Hyper­loop Pod Com­pe­ti­tion is meant to in­spire in­no­va­tion by chal­leng­ing stu­dents to de­sign a pro­to­type pod. To get to the fi­nals, VCU’s team sur­vived two elim­i­na­tion rounds, re­fin­ing its de­sign along the way.

The top 20 teams will build their pods and take them to Hawthorne, Cal­i­for­nia. On July 22, the teams will com­pete to see who has the fastest pod.

“Peo­ple from [the School of] Engi­neer­ing and all over have been con­grat­u­lat­ing us and thank­ing us for putting VCU out there and show­ing every­one that we’re not just an­other engi­neer­ing school,” said Matthew Kozak, con­trol team co-leader and hard­ware spe­cial­ist for the VCU team.

Hyper­loop at VCU is a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary team made up of fresh­men, sopho­mores and ju­niors at the School of Engi­neer­ing as well as the School of Busi­ness and VCUArts. The team is bro­ken into groups for pod de­sign, propul­sion, con­trols, elec­tron­ics, skid/frame de­sign, ve­hi­cle, con­struc­tion, fundrais­ing and mar­ket­ing. The groups work to­gether to de­sign and build the pod and raise money to pay for the project.

“Our big­gest thing right now is fundrais­ing,” Chadwick said. “The pod roughly cost $18,000, and we need to raise a rough to­tal of $33,000.”

The team is rais­ing money from spon­sors, grants and a Gofundme page.

Even though this is a com­pe­ti­tion, the teams are not cut­throat ri­vals. Hyper­loop at Vir­ginia Tech par­tic­i­pated in the 2017 SpaceX Hyper­loop Pod com­pe­ti­tion and has been shar­ing ideas with the VCU team.

“We’re not com­pet­ing with Tech; we want to bounce ideas off of them and work with them,” Kozak said. “It’s re­ally col­lab­o­ra­tive, which is re­ally mo­ti­vat­ing.”

Win­ners of the com­pe­ti­tion re­ceive no prize, and SpaceX re­serves all rights to the team’s de­signs. But for stu­dents, the com­pe­ti­tion is about more than winning.

“What mo­ti­vates every­one is that same thing: You get to go, you get to meet Elon Musk, in­ter­act with those com­pa­nies and be a part of the whole net­work,” Kozak said. “We’ve made it work so far, so I have no doubt in the fu­ture we will con­tinue to make it work.”

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