Ohio-natives Orville and Wilbur Wright wowed the world on December 17, 1903 with their powered airplane—the first of its kind—making the inaugural controlled and sustained human flight. Now, over 100 years later, Ohio is gearing up to not only be the birthplace of aviation but also the birthplace of Hyperloop: the solar-powered high-speed future of inter-city transportation.
As the possible fifth mode of transit after planes, trains, boats and cars, Hyperloop would be able to transport people at high subsonic speeds from say Cincinnati to Chicago in a mere 30 minutes. The conceptual method of travel “immediately poses a challenge to the status quo—in this case, California’s $70 billion high-speed train that has been knocked [as being] too expensive, too slow, and too impractical,” explained Musk in 2013.*
Fast forward two years to June 15, 2015 when SpaceX announced they were hosting a Hyperloop Design Competition to build a pod that can cruise through one mile of a test track built in California. No biggie right? Try designing a pod cruising nonchalantly at the speed of 760 mph—that’s easier said than done, my friends. Shortly after SpaceX’s callout, University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science (UC CEAS) third year aerospace engineering graduate student, Dhaval Shiyani, took action to assemble a multi-faceted team of fellow students and voila: Hyperloop UC was born.
Shiyani explained, “The potential of such a transportation system is enormous. Hyperloop has spawned a technology movement across the world and UC—being a top research university—has befittingly taken up the challenge. We are applying our classroom knowledge to this real-world, groundbreaking, new technological application. We have the task of building something wholly original here. We have no guidelines on how to build this pod which makes things very challenging and, at the same time, all the more interesting because it has never been done before. It’s immensely exciting to think that we’re one of the very first people in the world working on this concept, a concept that could entirely change the way we travel in the near future.”
From an initial pool of over 1,000 applications, more than three hundred teams from around the world—including Hyperloop UC—submitted their preliminary design briefing. Teams had to present a report outlining their main design goals and challenges that needed to be overcome in order to make Hyperloop a reality. Out of the 300 teams who submitted the preliminary design package, 124 teams from 20 countries were selected to present their final designs at the Hyperloop Design Weekend held at Texas A&M University from January 29-30, 2016.
During this Design Weekend, qualifying schools stationed a booth and presented their pod’s concept. Teams were judged based on feasibility, scalability and robustness.
Pitted against heavyweights such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Hyperloop UC remained optimistic throughout the demanding weekend. “We were always confident and always a contender,” said Pushkaraj Bhagwat, a third year mechanical engineering graduate student.
Kiran Siddappaji, also an aerospace engineering masters and PhD student, further described their concept, “Some of the innovative features we have is a counter-rotating fan, which is a better compression system than a single stage fan, because of its torque balance, high-efficiency, high-pressure ratio.”
Now spring forward—or take a Hyperloop, if you will—to the present, as UC becomes the only university from Ohio to advance to the final round of competition. This June, Hyperloop UC plans to literally run circles around their thirty opponents at the place where it all began, the one-mile SpaceX Hyperloop track in Hawthorne, California.
Sid Thatham, an MBA and chemical engineering graduate student, reflects, “Our team has focused on every aspect of the Hyperloop, from the station design to the minute details of levitation, aerodynamics, control systems, etc. Moreover, we have incorporated many unique features into our final design. The shear technical challenge involved in such a project could not have been overcome if we didn’t have a strong engineering education as a foundation—our time at UC CEAS provided us that foundation! The quality of engineering courses at CEAS is second to none. Additionally, we have developed a great network of fellow engineers while working on projects, thesis and courses at CEAS. This very network was the catalyst for the formation of our core team.”
As Hyperloop UC prepares for the final leg of the competition, the last design tweaks are being made and before long, the much anticipated concept build will begin. Thanks to industry and university sponsors, the team will be able to make their vision a reality. They are still seeking sponsorships, however, and encourage those interested to join them as they attempt to make history with Hyperloop UC.
The stakes will be high come June, but there is one thing that’s for certain: UC will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with in the final round.
Shiyani says, “We have managed to find the perfect balance between the SpaceX competition design and the ultimate scalable version of the Hyperloop which will one day carry humans between cities, forever revolutionizing the transportation industry as we know it.”
“The revolutionary concept of hyperloop is a prime example of how engineering is consistently vital when taking society to the next plateau,” says Teik C. Lim, UC CEAS Dean and Herman Schneider Professor of Mechanical Engineering, “At the College of Engineering and Applied Science, we are always challenging our students to be innovative and cutting-edge, and Hyperloop UC gives testimony to this conviction. Their vision, perseverance and accomplishments are the very essence of what we stand for. I wish them much success as they enter the final round and show the world how WE ENGINEER BETTER™.”