Lehigh Student Team to Compete in SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition

Earlier this month, a team of Lehigh engineering students arrived in southern California, set up shop in Boeing’s satellite facility in El Segundo and got to work.

Their project: finishing and testing the Hyper Hawk, a 3,300-pound, human-scale pod they designed and built for the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, which will take place Jan. 27-29, on a test track built by the aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company near its Hawthorne, Calif., facility.

Hyperloop, a magnetic levitation train meant to travel at high rates of speed in a tube with near-vacuum pressure, was introduced by SpaceX founder Elon Musk in 2013. In hosting the competition, SpaceX hopes to accelerate development of a functional prototype for Hyperloop.

A long-term, student-driven, hands-on process

The Lehigh team began development of the Hyper Hawk in Fall 2015. Its initial design earned the team an invitation to the Hyperloop Pod Competition Design Weekend at Texas A&M University in January 2016. The Lehigh team was then selected from a pool of more than 115 teams from 27 U.S. states and 20 countries to move on to this month’s build competition. They are the only all-undergraduate student team to make it this far and will compete against 28 teams from universities such as MIT, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Virginia Tech and Carnegie Mellon University.

The team’s pod, a prototype one-fifth the size of the proposed Hyperloop, is the largest in the competition in both weight and size and can accelerate to more than 200 mph. Up-scaled, the pod could potentially travel as fast as 500 mph. Team member Emma Isaacs ’19, a materials science and engineering major with a minor in entrepreneurship, says the team believes its pod “is one of the most scalable designs due to its ability to create compressed air used for levitation, rather than relying on an air tank to supply the compressed air.”

Many Lehigh students—too many to count—participated in different parts of the build throughout 2016. Seventeen students will attend the California competition and are now busy preparing for it in the space provided by Boeing. Boeing is a frequent collaborator with Lehigh students and faculty and is one of the Hyperloop team’s innovation sponsors. Other innovation sponsors include Ingersoll Rand, Taylor Air Center, St. Onge Company and Ales Tech. Students raised funds through Ignite LU and also received support from the university and several other corporate sponsors.

“I’m amazed how far we’ve come, and as the competition weekend approaches, it’s not easy to not get excited,” says Gencer Ates ’19, an industrial and systems engineering major. “I believe we’ve built a great scalable design, and I can’t wait to see how our design compares to that of others. It will definitely be an unforgettable event for us, no doubt about it.”

A unique and rewarding student experience

Tech Tanasarnsopaporn ’19,  a materials science and engineering and marketing major, says he feels excitement and pride leading up to the competition. “I know that I am contributing to the development of the transportation technology, and I cannot wait to see what kind of technological advancement myself or other people who were inspired by the project may create in the near future,” he says.

“Building the Hyperloop pod has been incredible,” says Seamus Cullinane ’17, an electrical engineering major. “Just the other day I was sitting and looking at the pod during lunch, and it just hit me that this enormous machine that will travel ridiculously fast was all built with our own hands. I'm not sure I'll have another feeling quite like that ever again.”

This entire experience, say the students, has benefitted them even beyond the exhilaration of possibly contributing to the future of transportation.

“Lehigh Hyperloop [has taught] me things I’d never learn in the classroom—it has jumpstarted my experience in the real engineering world,” says Isaacs. “I am incredibly impressed by what my team has done.”

“The Hyperloop project team has afforded me the opportunity to lead a group of undergraduate students as we attempted to build something that the rest of the world wouldn’t even think was possible. The Hyperloop experience has led me to be a better leader and project manager in the field of engineering, something that I hope to be involved in the rest of my life,” says Grant Moore ’17, an industrial and systems engineering major.   

A second team of Lehigh students, led by Tanasarnsopaporn, Isaacs and Ates, has already begun planning for the Hyperloop Pod Competition II, which begins its design phase this month for Summer 2017 competition. In the meantime, the Lehigh team is preparing to show what their first pod can do.

“I’m ready to go out and show the world that Lehigh University is, and will continue to be, one of the top engineering and technology schools,” says Moore.

To support Lehigh’s Hyperloop team in future competition, click here.

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