Elon Musk has put forward the idea of a hyperloop, a concept for high speed human transport system. The idea of a train that can travel at 760 mph, or just short of the speed of sound, through a pressurized tube may still be far away from becoming a reality but a group of engineering students have shown that Musk's idea is possible.
The hyperloop concept involves sending capsules or pods through a continuous steel tube with each of the capsules floating on a layer of air and pushed by electromagnetic motors. A group of students from the University of Illinois created a functional model of Musk's hyperloop at a scale of 1:24 albeit the prototype was not as fast as the theoretical speed of the system.
The miniature hyperloop is made up of a metal oval filling most of the room where it was built and like the proposed hyperloop, uses electromagnetic motors to push the pods around. It achieved a top speed of 3 meters per second or near to seven miles per hours. If this speed is scaled up, it is the same as the hyperloop running at a speed of 161 mph.
Although the speed is far from the speed thought about by Musk, several sacrifices have actually been made in the prototype. For instance, it uses roller bearings which cause friction. The pods were likewise not depressurized so there is more wind resistance and while the Hyperloop travels in a straight line, the model's track is an oval.
"We had to make some simplifications to the prototype. We use roller bearings instead of air bearings, for instance," said Andrew Horton, who participated in the project. "For the sake of our prototype, it wasn't feasible to have that complex of a system implanted in one semester. We're thinking future classes will take our work and move forward with it."
Despite the compromises, the students were able to show that the hyperloop is feasible albeit on a small-scale model. The real deal will likely be more complex particularly because of its main function of moving people fast.
Musk's company, SpaceX, intends to hold a competition on hyperloop in June next year where teams will build and test various capsule designs on a one mile track at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The University of Illinois already has a team with over 150 students.