For decades, the world has fantasized about the use of futuristic tubes as a form of ultra-high-speed transportation. However, while fun to watch in popular television shows like Star Trek and The Jetsons, to some the concept seemed more like a literal pipe dream than an actual possibility. That was, until 2012, when SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduced the “Hyperloop” concept – a mode of passenger and freight transportation capable of propelling a pod-shaped vehicle through a vacuum-like tube. SpaceX describes the concept as the “fifth mode of transportation.”
The outline of the original Hyperloop concept was made public in August 2013 and included a suggested route from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area. The early analysis caught people’s attention, indicating that passengers could make the trip in 35 minutes, meaning that passengers would travel the 350-mile route at an average speed of around 600 mph, with a top speed of 760 mph. Magnets are used to allow the pod to hover above the track, which means that very little energy is lost during travel.
Since then, Hyperloop has been open-sourced by Musk and SpaceX, and the company has encouraged the world to build on the original idea and make it better. A number of startups, most notably Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, were formed to try to commercialize the technology, but perhaps some of the most innovative Hyperloop designs have come from students.
SpaceX held its inaugural Hyperloop Competition Weekend Jan. 27 – 29, 2017, in Hawthorne, Calif., where students from all over the world presented their innovative pod designs. Out of the 29 teams, the winning design from Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands featured a pod shell designed using CFRP. The Delft Hyperloop Team’s half-scale pod is 4.5 meters long, 0.85 meters in diameter and only weighs 328 pounds. Early estimations during the design phase indicated weight savings of up to 20 percent compared to aluminum designs for the chassis of the pod.
While many other notable competitors used CFRP for the competition, TU Delft committed to composites during the initial design phase in 2015 before any other team did. Furthermore, most teams used composites for non-structural covers for their pod. The Delft Hyperloop Team was one of the few that used the material for structural purposes. However, regardless of who was first to the figurative carbon fiber finish line, TenCate says it was encouraging to see so many designs that incorporated composites.