Enterprising Students from BITS-Pilani set foot on building a Hyperloop that travels at 1200 Kmph

Even as Hyperloop One is liaising with the Indian government to bring the Hyperloop to India, an Indian student team is preparing to demonstrate its own Hyperloop technology at the SpaceX headquarters in California. The team is supported and mentored by organisations like Invest India, RITES, NITI Aayog and Indian Railways,after collaboration with IIMs, IITs and ISB on the feasibility of the project.

PILANI: Hyperloop India, a team run by BITS Pilani students, is now a finalist in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop challenge. Over a thousand student teams had participated in the competition, and 24 of the best designs from across the world were selected. These 24 teams will travel to California, pods in tow, where they will vie to be the fastest to travel the 1 mile distance on a specially constructed track.

Presently, India is making way for Bullet trains to move parallel with the first and second world countries but a group of enterprising students from BITS Pilani have already set foot much farther than this. Currently, they are working on building a hyperloop, which is much, much faster that bullet trains.

It’s likely that the pods will go very fast — Hyperloop technology can transport people at over 1000 kms per hour. It was first proposed by Elon Musk in 2013, who’d then claimed it would become the fifth mode of transport after cars, planes, trains and ships. Hyperloop systems consist of pressurized pods, which travel through steel vacuum tubes using a linear electric motor.

While no working prototypes exist, several private companies are engaged in developing their own solutions. Among the most prominent is Hyperloop One, which had carried out a public test of a rudimentary pod last year, and had declared it to be successful. Hyperloop One had then sent executives over to India, and had released a list of routes where it could build its tubes with some tantalizing timings — a Hyperloop One pod could, for instance, transport people from Mumbai to Delhi in just over an hour.

That’s what appears to have motivated the Hyperloop India team, which describes India’s transportation problem in delightfully nerdy terms. “India’s transport problem is an obvious “sysadmin” issue – A legacy system from the colonial rule running the world’s fastest growing economy,” the team says. They initially found the Hyperloop solution crazy, but felt it deserved a chance. “It was a pity that no one here was trying to work on it! So we decided to at least start trying to do something about it.”

They grouped together into a team of 60 in 2015, and started working on their design. Hyperloop India works out of 5000 square foot space under the Halasuru metro station in Bangalore. Their pod is called the OrcaPod, and promises to be safe, feasible, and hopefully for the SpaceX competition, fast. People have begun to take notice of their efforts — Ripple technologies, an engineering services provider is helping the team create and manufacture its components, and corporates such as Bangalore Metro, and BEML India have lent their support. The team is also running a crowdfunding campaign to help raise money to manufacture the pod — in order to manufacture the pod, the team needs to raise around 20 lakh over the next few weeks.

For instance, a bullet train would take about two hours to cover the distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, rushing at the speed of 320-350 km per hour maximum. The hyperloop reduces that time to merely 40 minutes, advancing at the anomalous speed of 1,200 km per hour. The idea sure sounds thrilling and quite unbelievable, and yet, is being worked upon by the young minds of BITS Pilani.

They take their inspiration from the ground-breaking “Hyperloop” travel idea of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, and are about to complete the final stage of building “Hyperloop India’s” single-compartment capsule or pod. They have planned to present and test the same in late August at the Musk-owned SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, in the final round of a global contest that was initiated in 2015.

A BE final year student at BITS Pilani and a member of what is being called Team Hyperloop, Prithvi Shankar says:

Hyperloop is tube travel wherein you have a vehicle that is magnetically levitated and propelled inside a vacuum tube. The technology that is used for the propulsion and braking systems can vary.

The bright, young mind mentioned that the team is using a “scalability first” approach, making the design more flexible for the transportation of cargo as well as passengers. According to their “feasibility assessment”, the concept works in theory and will cost only 60 per cent of the total cost of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train, if adopted. He said:

If hyperloop were to replace the high-speed rail that is currently being proposed… the entire infrastructure cost will be 40 per cent less, plus the maintenance costs will be much less. It will also require very little land acquisition.

Not only Bullet trains, but Hyperloop will be faster than the Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) trains as well, which themselves touch 650 km per hour and are currently operational in Japan and China.

Despite the fact that both are magnetically levitated, the reason why Hyperloop is going to have a upper hand over Maglev is that it will run inside a vacuum tube, inclining that it will avoid all air resistance and hence, will employ a different propulsion method. For the Hyperloop, passive permanent magnets are used, instead of the alternative electromagnets that require a constant electricity supply.

BITS’ Team Hyperloop India is using the material which differs from what the other 23 teams in the contest are using. Shankar says, Hyperloop India is going to use aircraft-grade aluminium, “which is four-times cheaper than carbon-fibre”. The latter is the one which the other teams are using to make their capsules.

The model will also stand out, he continues, given the capsule will be having an aerodynamic structure. He said:

Other teams are not dwelling on this, but we have kept our focus on an aerodynamic structure for the pod since at such a high speed of 1,200 km/hour, although there’s a very little air to be displaced, aerodynamic drag can become a powerful factor.

The team comprises of three members, two of which are student — Shankar and Shibhesh, who are workinh under Professor M.S. Das Gupta of BITS Pilani. This is the only team representing India and the second representing Asia, which will be going to California to present their model.

Back in 2015, in in response to the SpaceX design contest for which the firm built a one-mile (1.6 km) track on its premises and invited teams from all over the world to design hyperloop vehicles that could travel on the track, the tech-minds came together and rose as a team.

With 3 from India, a total of 216 teams coming in from all around the planet, Team Hyperloop India is now standing among the 24 finalists.

Now being supported and mentored by organisations like Invest India, RITES, NITI Aayog and Indian Railways, the team has already collaborated with IIMs, IITs and the Indian School of Business on the feasibility of the project.