AZLoop team places in top 8 at SpaceX Hyperloop pod competition

AZLoop, a team made up of about 100 students from ASU, NAU and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, placed in the top eight out of 35 teams in the SpaceX Hyperloop finals on August 27.

The goal of the competition is for each team to design and build a pod over the course of a year to test in the SpaceX Hyperloop tube.

For readers who haven’t heard of the Hyperloop, it is one of tech magnate Elon Musk’s many highly ambitious projects (although there are other separate companies working on the same concept). The idea is to transform transportation by creating an ultra-fast vehicle similar to high-speed magnetic levitation trains in Japan—however, Hyperloop pods travel through large steel tubes where the pressure is dropped to near-vacuum levels, allowing the pods to travel upwards of 760 miles per hour.

“To put that into perspective, you could get from Phoenix to Los Angeles in about 30 minutes,” said AZLoop team co-lead Lynne Nethken.

Nethken’s partner Josh Kosar founded the team two years ago. “One of my fellow [ASU Polytechnic] robotics club members came up to me and said, ‘Hey, SpaceX is holding this really cool competition . . . and we should watch, hold a viewing party,’’’ Kosar said. “So I started doing research into what the competition was about . . . and after researching I said, forget it, we should be participating.”

At the beginning of each competition cycle, each team works together to draft a preliminary design brief of their pod. SpaceX then reviews the briefs and narrows the field down to about 150 teams. Next, the teams spend months working on the details, and they present a final design to SpaceX employees. From there, only 23 teams are approved to begin building their pods.

The final teams have to go through safety briefings to make sure their pods are functional. If the pod passes a series of tests, it is cleared to run in an actual SpaceX Hyperloop tube. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to switch out the pods in the tube, and despite passing all of its tests, AZLoop’s pod did not get a chance to be tested this year.

The winner of the competition is determined solely by how fast the pod can travel, and the prize is only bragging rights—but for these teams, getting this experience means much more.

Image of the AZLoop team at the Hyperloop competition. Photo credit Twitter account @AZLoopHyperloop.

“To have the opportunity to be a part of that and look back one day and say hey, we helped develop some of the first prototypes ever for this transportation system, is really a pretty incredible thing to be a part of,” Nethken said.

Both Nethken and Kosar are departing the team for other opportunities, but they are confident the team will do even better next year.

The team operates like a startup, they said, with a detailed leadership structure and different specialties broken up into subgroups. Students of any major can join, and there is no test to get in—they just have to commit 10 hours per week and pass an interview and performance reviews.

Because of the group’s organization and dedication, the current team leads say finding new captains will be easy.

The team is also optimistic for next year because now that they’ve built a pod, they just need to work on tweaking it to make it faster. Most teams in the finals have been working on already-built pods for several years before making it that far, Kosar said.

AZLoop was also able to build a fully functional test Hyperloop track and vacuum chamber this year, and having that is a big advantage over the other teams.

Nethken said the team is very thankful for the community’s support.

“It was countless sleepless nights and lots of hard work, and we couldn’t have done it without the support of universities, our sponsors, even the media,” Nethken said. “It helps to keep putting one foot in front of the other even though you haven’t slept in days, and you’ve been living off pizza and Monster for a week. We really appreciate the opportunity.”

Jessica Swarner

Author: Jessica Swarner

Jessica is a recent graduate of ASU where she studied political science and journalism. She is currently a researcher at a local cybersecurity company. Her hobbies include reading up on hacker forums on Tor and giving unsolicited podcast recommendations.

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