A group of about 50 students from the University of Edinburgh is designing the pod as part of an international effort to create a commercially viable Hyperloop, first proposed by Elon Musk in 2012. The concept involves levitating pods travelling at high speeds through tunnels with low air pressure. It is hoped that it could be “more efficient, greener, on-demand and faster” than existing travel options.
The Edinburgh team, known as HypED, is taking part in two international competitions: SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition to design and test a half-scale pod; and the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, to propose and promote possible European Hyperloop routes.
The students are building their pod, currently named Poddy McPodface, in the university’s workshops ahead of competitive testing at SpaceX’s track in August. It will have a top speed of about 400kmh because the track is only 1,200m long, but the team say a full-size Hyperloop could hit speeds of 1,100kmh on the 534km journey between the English and Scottish capitals.
HypED is competing against many other universities and established companies, but president Adam Anyszewski said their pod’s engineering and design gives it several advantages. “Our prototype uses quite a lot of already available and established technology, so that makes it marketable in the sense that there is no new material, no new manufacturing processes that are still to be commercialised,” he told Professional Engineering.
“Effectively it is a novel form applied to already existing solutions. The biggest challenges coming in the construction of the Hyperloop are obviously the high speeds that you are dealing with and also aspects of the controlling the levitation.”
The Hyperloop could feasibly run between Edinburgh and London as well as Birmingham and Manchester in about 30 years, said Anyszewski. The pods would leave twice a minute, with passengers boarding modular rows of seats which transfer into the pod. An artificial intelligence system would drive and monitor the pods, keeping them at safe distances apart.
Using magnetic levitation, the pods would travel in a metal tunnel with an average maximum depth of 15-20m. The tunnel would have very low air pressure, providing less resistance for the pod. This aspect creates the main safety risk, said Anyszewski, with unplanned decompression forcing pods to a halt. However, he claimed the deceleration would be “unpleasant but not deadly”.
Hyperloops could revolutionise travel and transform societies around the world but particularly in the UK, said Anyszewski. “We are effectively extending the concept of London as a city, where so much of the UK wealth and capital is concentrated, to different parts of the country,” he said.
“The UK is a country of quite big stratification in society, relatively big inequality for such a developed economy. You have London, which is one of the most productive cities in the world, while nine out of the 10 following cities in the UK have productivity levels below EU average.”
By linking the four cities with an accessible, efficient and quick mode of travel, Hyperloop would help diversify wealth and bring prosperity to new areas, claimed Anyszewski. The concept is future-proof, he added, in comparison to the expensive and much-delayed HS2 rail link, which will only address current demand.
“Europe embraces new ideas in transportation like no other region in the world and is uniquely positioned to take the next great leap in transportation,” said Shervin Pishevar, co-founder of Hyperloop One, which is considering nine possible routes. “Our vision is to, one day, connect all of Europe with our Hyperloop One system, networking the entire continent.”