By Jacob Dubé
Get off your planes, trains and automobiles — the future is now, and its name is Hyperloop.
Hyperloop is the concept for a new mode of transportation — a pod zooming through a vacuum tube at high speeds of around 1,200 km/h. The Hyperloop could potentially make the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which takes around six hours by car, in approximately 30 minutes. It’s been described as a mix between a supersonic jet, a railgun and an air hockey table.
And some Ryerson students are laying the groundwork for progress to come.
Ryerson’s International Hyperloop Team won an award for their deployable wheel system at aerospace manufacturer SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition Design Weekend.
Team captain and Ryerson master’s of aerospace engineering student Graeme Klim decided to create the team after he found out that Elon Musk was proposing a Hyperloop design competition in the summer. Musk, founder of SpaceX as well as electric car company Tesla, proposed the concept of the Hyperloop in 2013.
Klim approached aerospace engineering professor Seyed Hashemi with his team and the idea to participate in the competition. Hashemi was undecided at first because he thought the project was too big to be managed properly.
“I was not 100 per cent convinced that we would be able to make the right contribution,” Hashemi said. “But later on, when I realized the team members were really interested and motivated, and they were putting their 100 per cent —sometimes more than 100 per cent — of their time and effort in that. Then, of course, that was good enough for me to [be] convinced. “
“It feels like you were in 1910 when the Wright brothers were flying the first aircraft. I had that feeling about the project.”
From September to January, the team, consisting of Klim and Hashemi as well as students Min Prasad Adhikari, Mohammad Moeid Elahikahouker, Mohammed Mohiuddin Khan and Thaarmehan Thayaparan worked on creating their design. Initially, Klim said the plan was to create an entire pod, but due to funding and time constraints they decided to focus on a subsystem instead. And since Klim had previous experience working with landing gear, they began designing their deployable wheel system.
“There was one line in Elon Musk’s document that actually inspired me to do so,” Klim said. “He wrote that for low-speed travel and emergency situations, he would have a wheel system deploy, similar to a landing gear. As soon as I read that, I thought we could definitely do that. Immediately we focused our efforts into designing a deployable wheel system.”
Their system, which won them the Subsystem Innovation Award, is a set of compact retractable wheels that can function in the vacuum tube of the Hyperloop. When the pod would come to a slower speed, usually upon arrival, the wheels would deploy. The team is currently seeking a patent on the design.
“We haven’t been able to find other areas where it’s been used before in the industry. So hopefully we can get something out of that,” Klim said.
Though they didn’t receive funding from SpaceX after the competition, they received a message from the company that recommended they follow through and create their design. It was also suggested they collaborate with another Hyperloop pod design team — Klim says the Ryerson team is looking to possibly work with teams from the universities of Waterloo, McMaster or U of T, among others.
The team plans to show their design at a SpaceX competition in the summer where teams will be able to test their pods on a full-scale mile-long Hyperloop track.
“We hope to put our wheel system on one of those pods. But if not, we’re more than happy to go to the demonstration rig and represent Ryerson down in California,” Klim said.
Hashemi predicts that the Hyperloop with be fully implemented within 15 to 20 years, with milestones coming every five. Klim, however, thinks it will take only 10. Either way, they both say it’s a good feeling to be a part of something this big.
“It feels like you were in 1910 when the Wright brothers were flying the first aircraft. I had that feeling about the project,” Hashemi said. “We know it’s going to go somewhere, we don’t know how fast it’s going to reach its goal.”
According to Klim, the Hyperloop has the potential to be the safest system on the planet.
“If he had the Hyperloop, he’d be here probably in five minutes.”
“Being in a vacuum tube, you’re not subject to weather conditions and the actual tube is going to be designed so that it’s earthquake resistant. So you don’t have too many natural disasters or high winds to slow you down,” Klim said. “Especially in Canada, you wouldn’t have to worry about winter storms at the airports. You just get in the Hyperloop pod and it’s a pretty smooth ride.”
He also says that its implications for transit are also game changers. With a Hyperloop, a worker could live in Los Angeles and commute the half-hour trip to San Francisco.
“It’s way better than Dr. Hashemi; he takes the bus from Kitchener every day to come to Ryerson. So if he had the Hyperloop, he’d be here probably in five minutes,” Klim said.
For long-term transport, there is the potential for the pods to go even faster. Klim says that if a Hyperloop was running from Vancouver to Toronto there would be the possibility of its speed going supersonic, because it has more distance for acceleration.
“Maybe that trip could be done in an hour,” he said. “I don’t know, wouldn’t that be awesome?”