February 11, 2016

OpenLoop Project Team Designs New Pods for High Speed Travel

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OpenLoop — a project team composed of Cornellians and students from five other universities — was granted approval to bring their designs for a new form of high speed transportation to compete in California.

In 2013, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX rolled out his vision for high-speed travel, called Hyperloop, in which people and goods would be transported in pods that move through low-pressure tubes.

This past summer, Musk announced a student competition to build half-scale versions of the pods, which will be tested and raced this summer on a one mile track constructed by SpaceX in California. Within hours of the announcement, Nick Parker ’18  formed a Cornell team.

Given the competition’s pressing timeline, it was a nearing the  impossible task for just one group at Cornell to prepare for, according to Parker.

The team now consists of 85 members from six schools: Cornell, Harvey Mudd College, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Northeastern University, Princeton University and the University of Michigan, Parker said.

After their designs were approved this past weekend, the 31 teams, including OpenLoop, are focusing their attention on the Hyperloop pod competition this summer.

Unlike other teams, whose primary focus on building the fastest pod. Openloop has more ambitious goalsa, ccording to Parker and Business Lead Julian Moraes ’18.

“We want to make the technology work,” said Moraes. “We are trying to lay out a model that Hyperloop technology can actually construct – a model that they can follow and use to figure out how to scale this technology and really profit from it.”

“[Other teams are] really emphasizing going as fast as possible, they’re building very lightweight aerodynamic pods,” Moraes said. “The real endgoal is to transport heavy cargo and lots of people, so we want to figure out how we can do that efficienty.”

Along with its emphasis on creating a practical technology, the considerable physical distances between the six schools naturally presents challenges, which has made communication and organization key, according to Parker.

Parker and Moraes said that each of the six schools has distinct responsibilities in the designing process of OpenLoop. The Cornell team specifically works on suspension and handling much of the business side.

“We’re really lucky that Hyperloop does break down into pretty composable systems,” Parker said.  “It could’ve been the case that it was all horribly interdependent and that there was just no good way to do this, but it did split pretty well.”

According to Parker, the hope is that all 85 teams  can travel to California, and the team is reaching out to manufacturing shops where they can assemble the pod in California.

Moraes said that the construction of the pod will be costly –– approximately $45,000-$50,000 –– so the business team will play an important role.

Moraes and others are actively reaching out to companies for donations, whether in cash form or donations of actual building materials.

“The number one challenge is how to establish our credibility to companies as a student team,” Moraes said.  “How do we actually get their attention?”

In reflecting on the OpenLoop journey up to this point, Parker said it has been an incredible learning experience for the entire team.

“The breakneck pace SpaceX set for this competition has everyone giving 100% and doing whatever needs to be done — not necessarily the narrow field their coursework has prepared them for.”