Designing the transport of the future with the aid of 3D printing
Students from the UPV have made it through the last phase of Elon Musk's competition to design Hyperloop, an ultrafast mode of transport powered by renewable energy.
It all started like most great stories do: with a group of friends united by a common enthusiasm. In this case, engineering. The original team, called Makers UPV, comprised Daniel Orient, Juan Vicén, David Pistoni, Germán Torres and Ángel Benedicto, five students from the Technical University of Valencia (UPV). These youngsters decided to join forces in 2015 to enter the international competition of development ideas for Hyperloop, a futuristic mode of transport promoted by Elon Musk (the founder of Paypal, Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX).
The basic idea of this system is the transport of passengers inside pods that travel in reduced-pressure, steel tubes at more than 1000 kilometres per hour. To make this possible, Elon Musk decided to create a process of open innovation, so via his company, SpaceX, he organised this competition aimed at encouraging minds from all over the world to propose designs.
Nearly two years later, and after much work, they have passed two important tests, competing with prominent universities and technical institutions from around the world. The team now comprises more than 30 students.
In January 2016 they won the 'Design Weekend', the first phase of the competition, which focused on the theoretical design of a Hyperloop prototype. Among more than 130 participating teams from such prestigious universities as MIT, Stanford, Purdue and UC-Berkeley, they received the Top Design Concept and Best Propulsion Subsystem awards.
In April 2017 they were invited to participate in the second major test: Pod Competition 1, held in Los Angeles, where they were able to visit the test track built by SpaceX and share their progress with other universities from around the globe.
Being one of the 24 teams selected to pass through to the following phase, they are now preparing for the next important event: Pod Competition II, summer 2017. Here they will present their prototype that carries one passenger, with which they will compete together with the other teams.
What is Hyperloop?
It was in 2013 when the visionary enterpriser, Elon Musk, first publicly announced the Hyperloop project, which he called “the fifth mode of transport”. In this announcement he revealed his plans to create a vehicle capable of travelling from Los Angeles to San Francisco Bay in 35 minutes. The design is based on a system of large tubes containing a vacuum. Pods that are able to carry cargo or passengers travel through these at 1000 kilometres per hour, in a similar way to the capsules used in pneumatic money-transit systems in supermarkets.
“Important commercial connections, such as Algeciras - Hamburg in just three hours or Madrid - Paris in one hour, can be a reality”
Apart from the high speed, the big advantage of this design is that it would be totally powered by emission-free, renewable energy. “Its operation is very similar to that of an aeroplane, but along the ground instead, and using an electric battery, not fossil fuels”, explains Vicén.
The design idea they presented in 2016 stood out from the other proposals due to its topside levitation system, which generates savings of 30% compared to the other prototypes with rails. “Topside levitation obviates the installation of kilometres of rails, furthermore, we can avoid the passenger feeling centrifugal forces produced by curves”, says Vicén.
Prototyping in 3D
After the last meeting in Los Angeles comes the big challenge: to create a new and improved prototype, one that will be the fastest come summer. They are currently working nonstop to find the best combination of “high speed and safety”. A key tool in this process is 3D printing, which forms the foundation for their constant development of innovative solutions. Specifically, they are working with BQ Witbox 2 printers.
“The 3D printers are what help us most in our work, they allow us to trial the technology we're using and constantly run tests”
“To produce Hyperloop prototypes we first need to verify that they work on a smaller scale to this end, 3D printing is key because it lets us carry out tests quickly”
Quite a lot of time has passed since the creation of the original maker group that gave rise to Hyperloop UPV. Along the way they have received plenty of support from a number of companies, their university, as well as prizes and extensive media coverage. Their aim, however, remains unchanged: “To offer innovative proposals so that this mode of transport may one day become a reality”, he concludes.