What is Hyperloop?
It’s best said by the Hyperloop at Virginia Tech that, “Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation system using a passenger-carrying pod in a near-vacuum
tube that is envisioned to reach speeds in excess of 700 mph.”
This design team was started in 2015 when the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition was announced. Hyperloop focused on creating a pod that would be able to transport through a straight track at a supersonic, but safe, speed. After this point, SpaceX decided to expand their competition track to include curves. This means that the Hyperloop pods will need to be able to change direction and break in intervals rather than just at the end point. After the competition was cancelled, due to COVID-19 and the track alteration, the VT Hyperloop design team started to shift into a research- based club so that they could focus on the application of hyperloop instead of just
Thanks to the space given to them by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), Hyperloop has been able to start a few different research projects. Unfortunately, there are only 30 out of the 170 members participating in these projects, mostly because of the limitations that arose with COVID-19.
In terms of starting any new upcoming competitions, Hyperloop at VT has registered a team for the new Not-A-Boring international competition! Some of the requirements are that the tunnel boring machine has a diameter of 0.5m and can bore a tunnel of 30m long. The team will be making this completely from scratch and has already started designing using CAD software.
What is the VTTI?
As said by their website, the VTTI focuses on “advancing transportation through innovation and has affected public policy on national and international levels” (VTTI).
One of their goals, as stated by Dr. Zac Doerzaph, director of the division for vehicle drivers and safety systems at the VTTI (one of four divisions), is “looking at how to make the next generation of sensing systems better so that automated vehicles and advanced driving systems are more capable.”
The VTTI has been working with students for as long as their institution has been running. The most common majors to be involved are Mechanical Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Civil Engineering. Students can be involved in research that affects people on a day- to- day basis.
Anne Deekens, VTTI Communication Manager, stated “we conduct ground transportation safety research. It’s focused on saving lives. We do research on a variety of different vehicle types. Most people think of cars but we also study trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, new cars, and scooters.”
Students can get more involved by conducting or participating in different tasks within research. For example, analyzing data or working on a project for a thesis, if you are a graduate student. This can help them to “fill in part of the academic experience which is often neglected, by giving them hands-on, minds-on opportunities where students are working with hardware and software directly” (Doerzaph). They usually focus on topics like machine learning, automated vehicle systems, and how to make interactions of public services safe (EMS, police, first responders, work zones). Students also get to participate in lab studies and use smart road technology, which is the kind of “experience that allows them to interact with industries that would potentially hire them in the future” (Doerzaph).
About the initiative and how to get involved:
The initiative is a strategic partnership between the VTTI, Hyperloop at VT, and Internhub. The VTTI, as Dr. Doerzaph mentioned, wants to launch something meaningful into the “research enterprise that is Hyperloop. It’s a small but growing industry with a lot of promise to offer.” There a lot of transportation problems that remain unsolved so by working with Hyperloop, they can channel their “expertise into bringing that industry into fruition and creating solutions that may help offset some our environmental and safety challenges which can be potentially improved through hyperloop if its appropriately developed and deployed correctly” (Doerzaph). This initiative is really about “leveraging resources together and launching a significant research enterprise surrounded around the Hyperloop topical area” (Doerzaph).
Looking at Hyperloop at VT, they will be reaching out to companies and completing research projects while under the administration of the VTTI.
As Josie Martin, a Virginia Tech student and Hyperloop Design team leader, mentioned “We do not have projects with VTTI but are working within it for the same goals.”
To get into what the student perspective of Interhub would look like, they would be able to get more experience than a regular student. Deekens talked about an example where “students went to Michigan to Continental’s headquarters and were trained by engineers on driverless shuttle technology (automated driver systems). They then came back to Virginia Tech at the start of the fall semester and continued that internship, but at Virginia Tech instead.” To put this into perspective, these internships can last anywhere from six months to two years while regular internships usually take place during the summer time. Overall, the purpose of the initiative is to not only work with students but to “explore and find partnerships with industry. We are actively seeking industry members to be a part of the exciting relationship they are bringing together,” as Dr. Doerzaph said.
What does the future look like?
For Hyperloop at VT, there’s a hope to have their club be more evenly split between research with the VTTI as well as participating in competitions. Martin mentioned that they have a “vision for the Hyperloop team to have a research side to focus on technology as well as implementation, so what routes make sense and what would be possible based on where people and cargo travel right now.” They’d also like to involve more of their team members. Overall, Hyperloop and the VTTI would like to expand and further develop their initiative so they can progress their journey in the supersonic transportation industry.