Avishkar Hyperloop, a student team of IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Madras, is riding high after it made it to the finals of the 2019 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition that will be held on July 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California, United States. What’s more, Avishkar Hyperloop is the only Asian team to make it to the final. SpaceX has been organising this competition since 2016 at its headquarters in Los Angeles aimed at encouraging student teams to develop their own versions of Hyperloop pods. The event attracts over 1,000 teams globally; out of which only three teams are allowed to test their pods in the track built by SpaceX.
Several global challenges have pushed the mobility industry to look for faster modes of transport. One of the most prominent solutions to have gained considerable interest world over is the concept of the Hyperloop, proposed in a 2013 whitepaper by Elon Musk, Founder & CEO, SpaceX and The Boring Company. Since Musk detailed its need in contemporary times, there have been significant developments in this space.
SpaceX has been conducting the Hyperloop Pod Competition for student and non-student teams to design – and for some, build – a sub-scale prototype transport vehicle to demonstrate technical feasibility of various aspects of the Hyperloop concept. Avishkar Hyperloop first participated in the competition in 2017, and was one of the 47 top teams to qualify for the final design round. This year, the team has improved its performance to make it to the top 22 finalists.
Operating out of the Centre For Innovation (CFI) in IIT Madras, the Avishkar Hyperloop team is aiming to develop India’s first fully automated self-propelled Hyperloop pod. The team is currently in the manufacturing stage of the pod that will be able to achieve speeds of up to 300 km/h in the 1.2 km long vacuum tube in California. The entire pod has been developed indigenously by the team ranging from first year BTech degree to PhD students.
THE PROBLEM STATEMENT
At IIT Madras, a students’ team was set up in 2017, consisting of like-minded individuals who had a radical idea that might possibly help realise the Hyperloop. The theory was simple; levitate pods with electromagnetic fields and propel it forward. As time wore on, the students’ team grew in size, with more and more motivated individuals trusting the science behind the theory. And all the spadework bore fruit as Avishkar Hyperloop in its first year, passed through the first stage of the competition, along with only 47 teams among 1,500 teams that participated that year. However, the team’s dream was brought to a halt owing to a lack of resources and unfinished research on their hypothesis.
However, the team reworked its strategy this year. They focussed on propulsion via conventional wheels, carrying out behind-the-scenes work on the linear induction motor (LIM). The team procured compatible motors, power sources and associated devices. Most of the designs such as the wheels, chassis, etc. would be custom made, the team intimated. The team gained immensely from its previous experience and laid the groundwork for its resources, and is inching closer towards achieving its set goal.
The report for the Preliminary Design Round (PDR) was submitted on November 4, 2018 and by the end of that month, Avishkar Hyperloop was given the go-ahead by SpaceX for the next stage. It was a crucial period for the team – each sub-system had their work cut out for them. The team would engage in meetings and deliberations that would go late into the night. Time was but an illusion. Sub-systems would have to update their designs regularly to accommodate the needs of the entire pod. Safety and performance, two usually contradictory factors, were made to go hand in hand. Prototypes were made and tested, the results of which would further alter the designs. The team had to adhere to the special protocols set by SpaceX.
Finally, on January 11 this year, Avishkar Hyperloop submitted a 122-page document detailing a comprehensive design of the final pod to SpaceX. An exclusive panel set-up by SpaceX perused the document and subsequently contacted Avishkar for the final step. It was followed by a round of interviews that would validate the hypothesis, at least in theory. The results of these dialogues were conclusive as Avishkar Hyperloop was handpicked for the finals in July 2019.
Avishkar Hyperloop dreams of validating its Hyperloop concept. The team is sparing no effort to make it big in the 2019 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. A lot is at stake as they are representing India in a competition, where they will race its pod among the very best. The funding for Avishkar Hyperloop is being raised by the non-technical team and the testing phase has begun. The team is conducting necessary tests every week for each component. However small it may be, this is crucial as the pod would be operating at low pressure conditions that could have unpredictable effects on its functioning. The results of these tests will help finalise manufacturability. Once all these tests are conducted and the results validated, the pod will finally be manufactured.
The final manufacturing phase will eat up the next three months, up until the very day of the competition. The team said every sub-system needs to be in peak condition, every action needs to be deliberated and every response needs to be accounted for. The team is fully aware that designing the pod on paper and actually manufacturing it is a herculean task, but it is gearing up to give its best in Los Angeles, aiming to be the first Indian team to win the competition.