Students build hyperloop prototype for engineering competition

Students Enrique Cervero and Hamish Geddes who form part of the University of Edinburgh Hyperloop Team, known as HypED, worked for over ten months to design and build a Hyperloop prototype, a method of levitating transportation propelled along a vacuum tube.

Much of their summer was spent at the mechanical lab in King’s Building drawing sketches, tightening bolts and drilling holes with the ultimate purpose of bringing their Hyperloop Pod, Poddy McPodface, to life.

All this work culminated at the end of August in Los Angeles, where HypED was invited by SpaceX to participate in the finals of one of the most prestigious engineering competitions in the world: The Hyperloop Pod Competition II. A total of 25 teams from all over the world were invited to unveil and race their prototypes at the space company’s headquarters, HypED being the only British team and one of four European teams.

The team arrived in LA about a week before the competition where they brought their prototype to a local workshop in Los Angeles, Urban Workshop, where they spent most of the pre-competition days giving the final touches to the design.

Enrique Cervero: "Our main worry before the competition was that we would not finish our pod in time, that there would be some flaw or eventuality that we had not planned for and that would ultimately prevent us from competing at SpaceX.   We therefore worked hard trying to get everything done perfectly to meet SpaceX’s requirements."

When the pod was complete, they drove it to SpaceX in Hawthorne, LA, where it was tested for safety, systems and functionality before the competition. Out of the 25 teams who got invited to the competition, only 3 would be allowed to test their pod and race it in the vacuum tube.

HypED’s prototype was unfortunately not one of the 3 chosen by SpaceX. However, the team was given clearance to test their pod at a speed of 40m/s (144km/h) in the vacuum track, which would have made it one of the fastest Hyperloop Pods ever tested.

Enrique Cervero commented: "Over the entire year and competition, I have learned that real world applications of engineering are never simple and require a level head and persistence to complete: there must be a lot of thought put into a design, many drafts, scraps and failures need to be done before arriving at the finalised product.   I have also acquired a lot of technical experience, how to use industrial machinery, solve real world mechanical problems and work as a team to bring our ideas to life."

The outcome of the competition was also an imperative learning experience for the team which they will use to their advantage in next year’s competition. They will learn from their design flaws and mistakes and remove them in their next design, use the advice and knowledge given to them by Tesla and SpaceX engineers, and improve on the design’s advantages.