VCU competes to build transportation future
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.”