Engineering students have returned victorious from the international Hyperloop design competition in Texas, bringing back a top technical award for their revolutionary high-speed travel pod.
It took nearly 20 hours for the VicHyper team to fly back to Melbourne, but had they travelled in their own design they might have made it home in time for dinner.
The Bachelor of Engineering (Aerospace Engineering) (Honours) students never expected to make it this far but after presenting their design to a panel of engineers from NASA, Space X and Tesla at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Design Weekend, have now advanced to the next stage of the competition.
Out of more than 1700 entries, less than 130 were selected to compete in Texas and VicHyper was the only team chosen from Australia.
The team’s unique pod design, which travels on cushions of air inside a vacuumed tube at speeds of 1200km/h, could cut travel time between Melbourne and Sydney to just 40 minutes.
Team leader Zachary McClelland said the design could revolutionise the future of transport.
“Australia is an amazing platform for technology. We have world leaders in science and engineering coming out of university every year, we should be leading the world in innovation,” McClelland said.
Back in Melbourne, the team is now focused on building and testing a prototype, shipping it to Los Angeles later this year to compete against the 29 other university teams from around the world that made it through to the next stage.
Here McClelland talks more about what their design means for the future of transport, how it felt to accept the award, and his advice for future engineering students.
So back on solid ground again, was winning the Braking System Technical Excellence Award a surprise for the team?
It was a total shock. During the awards ceremony I wasn’t even listening for our team’s name so when it was called out it took a while to register.
We always knew we had quite a good braking system designed and that’s why we selected it as our subsystem to present.
But when we saw that MIT, who won best overall design, also submitted their braking system and Stanford as well, we realised it was going to be a long shot to win the category.
What was it like going to Texas and competing against international engineers?
It was amazing. To have the best young engineering minds from all over the world working towards one goal of making the world a better place was quiet surreal.
No one was secretive about their designs and everyone had advice for other teams on how they could make their design better.
Did you notice any differences between your own approaches to design from that of the other teams?
RMIT is much more of a hands-on design university, it was quite evident that our team had taken a different approach to our design.
Nearly all other teams that made it through to the final round designed purely to compete on the test track, whereas we designed for a pod that could be scaled to a full scale working Hyperloop.
We were more interested in something that would help change the world, than in something that would win a competition.
What does your hovercraft-esque travel design mean for the future of travel? Where would you like to see transportation technology go in the future?
If our design were implemented between Melbourne and Sydney it would cut travel time to 40 minutes.
It’s also completely solar powered so would drastically reduce carbon emissions. And it would be the safest mode of travel the world has ever seen.
I really think that the Melbourne to Sydney route would be the best place in the world to test the technology as it is the 3rd busiest air route in the world and there are little obstacles to build the track.
What advice can you give to young engineering students just about to start?
Go for it. Work hard, play hard and let’s change the world together.
The RMIT VicHyper Engineering team was: Zachary McClelland, Matt O'Callaghan, David Purser, Cameron Clanchy, Joel Kennedy, Michael Gritsch and Liam Murphy.
Story: Sean O’Malley