BENGALURU: Space X and Tesla founder, Elon Musk released his plans for Hyperloop travel – a form of transportation using pods that levitate through tubes at supersonic speeds and is faster than even air travel - in 2013. Until then, this was something that was talked about in the context of sci-fi books and movies. A ‘Hyperloop Movement’ was about to begin.
Elon took the next step and announced a worldwide contest in 2015 for budding engineers to design these pods. The design for this plan, developed by Elon’s engineers, was put out in the open for all to see, develop and improve on. At the same time Musk built a 1-mile Hyperloop track at his facility in California to put designs to the test.
How it Began
While all these developments were taking place, a student at BITS, Pilani was unimpressed at the lack of enthusiasm from India at what was being heralded as the beginning of a transport revolution. “I was disappointed that no one was doing anything on this front. There was no one from the country in the Hyperloop competition announced by Elon Musk. So I decided that this was a cause that was important enough to enter. Plus I was pumped up about meeting Elon,” says Sibesh Kar, founder and lead, Team Hyperloop India.
The initial stage of the competition involved coming up with designs for the Hyperloop pod. A competition was held in Austin Texas, that saw big participation. “Space X had invited presentations on the basis of the white papers published by it in 2013. As many as 1,200 teams applied for the competition of which 120 teams qualified,” says Prithvi Sanker, head of Business Development at Hyperloop India. It was around this time that a five-member team comprising of fourth-year students of his college, was formed.
The entire team was greatly inspired by what Musk said before the beginning of the Hyperloop Pod Design Competition in 2016 - “The world needs something new and think you guys will bring it to them.” The team was invited for the event and got a chance to watch Musk himself. They did not participate in that competition but left highly inspired and determined to compete the next year. “My initial reaction when I saw him was - he is really tall,” Sibesh says in banter. He met Elon twice in January 2016 and January 2017 and that jacked up his enthusiasm for the project.
The team first had to submit an 80-page document giving a brief idea about the preliminary design. This was approved, shortlisted and a final and very extensive design document that highlighted each detail of the design had to be made. “The tech levitation mechanisms, propulsion, aerodynamic simulation all had to be given. We prepared a 250-page document that encompassed everything,” says Prithvi.In March this year, the team got to know about their qualification to the next round of the competition that will take place in Hawthorne testing facility between August 25 to 27. They shifted base to Bengaluru and have been feverishly working around the clock to complete the project.
Ideal ecosystem in Bengaluru
The team scanned a number of potential bases such as Delhi and Mumbai before zeroing on Bengaluru. “Considering that a lot of vendors are based out of Bengaluru, it was an ideal ecosystem here,” says Prithvi.
The biggest hurdle was finding a place for the machining and manufacturing of equipment. “The team went looking at places with facilities where they could build the prototype for the pod,” says Prithvi. They were also searching for a makerspace where they could do the other part of the work such as software design, assembling.
“We were fortunate to get the assistance of a makerspace like Workbench Projects. They in turn connected us to a manufacturing company in Peenya called Ripple Group and everything fell into place,” says Prithvi. He further pointed out that Peenya being Asia’s second largest industrial estate after Shanghai, had all the requirements for hardware prototyping. The team is working for free at these two places.