Newfoundland visionaries compete in Elon Musk's Hyperloop finals
Paradigm pod could propel people and cargo at jetliner speeds, transforming how we move
Imagine stepping into a driver-less pod in downtown Toronto and then zooming in an airtight tube across the border to Manhattan in 30 minutes. Or taking less than two hours to travel from Vancouver to Los Angeles.
That's the driving idea behind Elon Musk's Hyperloop concept. Proponents believe it has the potential to revolutionize how people and products are transported between major urban areas.
After making public his idea for Hyperloop in 2013, Mr. Musk asked university students around the world to design a Hyperloop pod – the container that would carry passengers and cargo through a steel tube maintained at a partial vacuum. More than 1,200 designs were submitted, but only 24 are still in the competition, including the Paradigm prototype designed by a group of engineers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The six-metre-long fuselage, weighing between 800 and 900 kilograms, was created by students and recent graduates of Memorial University of Newfoundland and the College of the North Atlantic in St. John's, with graduates of Northeastern University in Boston, in a partnership that started about two years ago.
The Paradigm team members went through two initial competitions – the first in 2015 looked at a proposed design and the second in January tested the prototypes at a test site in California owned by Mr. Musk's SpaceX – and is Sunday competing in speed trials at the 1-1/2-kilometre-long test tunnel, along with 'Waterloop' from a team at the University of Waterloo.
"The number of times I stayed up until 5 a.m. working on this project is quite substantial," said Paradigm team leader Adam Keating.
Mr. Keating, who graduated from Memorial University in April with a degree in mechanical engineering, is one of about 30 members of the Paradigm team (half are from the two Newfoundland schools and half from Boston's Northeastern). The group says more than $150,000 in donations, and a mix of government and private sponsorships, have helped make the Paradigm pod a reality, although team members aren't paid.
In addition to the challenge of trying to develop the fastest and safest pod, the Paradigm team say they're opting to build the first "air-bearing pod," rather than using magnetic propulsion, which they believe many of the other teams are doing. The air bearings they've created use compressed air to help the pod levitate.
"In terms of what passenger comfort would be, it would be no different than saying 'are you comfortable getting on a plane?' It's probably actually more relaxing because you can't fall out of the sky," Mr. Keating said about the Paradigm prototype, which is one of the largest that will be tested and the closest in length to what a full-sized pod is envisaged to be.
Mr. Musk – who co-founded SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) to develop advanced rockets and spacecraft, electric-car manufacturer Tesla and OpenAI, which is working to develop artificial intelligence – is hoping the Hyperloop system will become the world's fifth mode of transportation, after planes, trains, cars and boats.
In a 2013 white paper he published, titled Hyperloop Alpha, he estimated the cost to build a Hyperloop system that could carry both passengers and cargo between Los Angeles and San Francisco to be about $7.5-billion (U.S.), though critics say it would likely cost much more to construct.
On Sunday, the Paradigm pod and other designs were loaded into the airtight Hyperloop test tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., to begin accelerating. While the first round of the competition last January focused on safety and other design parameters, "the second and final round will focus on speed," according to the guideline for the competition.
The Paradigm team hope their pod's air-bearing, levitation-pressure system will help them achieve a speed of about 320 km/h. The eventual hope is that the Hyperloop system would transport people and products at speeds near 1,100 km/h.
Benjamin Lippolis, who just graduated from Northeastern University's D'Amore-McKim School of Business and is from Nashville, Tenn., says being a part of the Hyperloop competition has become more about realizing that he is a part of something bigger.
"It's about building the future that you would like to be a part of, making the world better for everyone by bringing this Hyperloop technology to reality," he said.
Memorial University president Gary Kachanoski says Paradigm's product is an example of Canadian innovation that is playing a direct role in solving tomorrow's problems.
"They are standing with the rest of the world in developing more sustainable transportation. We could not be more proud of them," he said.
Team leader Mr. Keating says there's a lot on the line. "The winners of the competition gain significant international recognition and interest from venture capitalists, partner companies and future employers, such as SpaceX, Tesla and Apple,"he said.
"For us it's been an incredible two years and we are pretty excited for the next phase."