University of Wisconsin Madison students are taking part in what could be the next revolution in travel: The Hyperloop.
A transportation concept first envisioned by SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk. Musk envisioned people traveling in magnetically levitating pods, propelled through a vacuum tube at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour. Dramatically reducing travel times between cites, particularly those a few hundred miles apart.
The radical technology is pitting two of the worlds brightest innovators against each other. Musk has built a vacuum test tube outside the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA. In the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas, Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson has built a Hyperloop test track for his version called Hyperloop One.
Virgin is developing their own Pod and has successfully tested it. Elon Musk has gone a different route. Building the vacuum test tube, then asking Engineering students from across to take part in a competition to build the fastest and safest pod.
“What this is intended to do is encourage innovation in transport technology,” said Musk at the 2017 competition in California.
UW Madison students formed “Badgerloop” three years ago. It’s group of 50 undergraduate and graduate students from across the spectrum of studies, taking part in extracurricular club of sorts to build a pod.
The club’s 1st and 2nd pods won innovation awards from Space X. They unveiled their latest Pod III last week in Madison.
“It’s going to change transportation, you're going to get from point A to point B, 10x faster,” said Badgerloop president Kali Kinziger.
In years past the group’s pods have been equipped with seats and powered by different sources. This year Musk’s main criteria for the competition to be held this July in California, is to go as fast as possible with enough deceleration, or brakes, so that the pod doesn’t crash through the end of the tube.
“My biggest fear is we are halfway down the tube going 300 miles per hour and then we don’t stop. It would be quite an explosion, and not an explosion I want to be responsible for," Badgerloop Mechanical Director Justin Williams said.
The goal of the Hyperloop platform, regardless of who is building it, is to one day reach speeds of 500 to 700 miles per hour. That could make regional trips like one from Milwaukee to Chicago happen in less than 15 minutes.
The Badgerloop students also conducted a feasibility study on Hyperloop.
Badgerloop’s Utkarsh Maheshwari says "not a lot of companies have the technical ability of building a magnetic levitation infrastructure, not only that, it is also very expensive.”
The study estimated the cost of building a magnetic levitating line at $100 to $150 million dollars a mile. That would make the Milwaukee to Chicago route ring in around $12 billion dollars. The most feasible way to pay for the technology is a public-private partnership says Maheshwari.
The timeline on Hyperloop varies depending on who you talk to. Scientist’s at Virgin’s Hyperloop One say we could see a functioning line by 2023. The Badgerloop group says how quickly it is built depends on the technical specifications. Dropping the vacuum tube requirement would speed up the process, but change the original concept.