AUSTIN (KXAN) — Students at the University of Texas at Austin are out to change the world by moving people at supersonic speed.
During a SXSW discussion panel Thursday, three members of the student-driven engineering group Texas Guadaloop explained their vision of hyperloop technology and where their research and development has taken them, both figuratively and literally.
Trevor Liu, Aaditya Ranjit and Carolina Ponce detailed what their team has found, and what they are still working to figure out, about harnessing the idea of making land transportation as fast and efficient as possible.
“Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation, and there are obstacles the transportation industry is facing,” Liu said. He’s the head of engineering for the group. “It’s not fast enough, it’s not sustainable, and it’s not equitable. Hyperloop aims to solve these problems.”
The concept the students are working with is essentially bringing the physics of flight and air travel down to ground level. In doing so, they dove into research and created a pod that’s propelled by electricity via batteries and guided by magnetic levitation on a track that’s built inside a tube.
The tube is vacuum-sealed to reduce air pressure to nearly nothing, thus eliminating constraints like air resistance, friction and drag, allowing the pod to — theoretically — travel its fastest at almost the speed of sound.
While it wouldn’t go that fast with people inside, hyperloop pods could potentially take groups of people from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Austin in about 20 minutes without burning fossil fuels.
“Hyperloop is solving the problem of transportation that we can make the world a more connected, more green place, and just a better place to live,” Ranjit said. He’s a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at UT, and he’s the head of mechanical systems. “We’re trying to make faraway places not so far away.”
The tube itself is designed to simulate air travel at 100,000 feet, where the air is thin and there’s nearly no friction or air resistance. The pod then uses magnets to “float” above a track, similar to maglev trains in Asia. Ranjit explained the difference between those and what Texas Guadaloop is working on aims to decrease the maintenance costs to the track and reduce energy consumption.
“What we’ve been doing is working closely with industry experts to help us develop a levitation system without power consumption,” Ranjit said. “We only interact with the very top of the track. It’s technology that blew my mind.”
It’s technology that’s also incredibly expensive and is decades away from actually becoming something tangible, but that isn’t stopping these brilliant students from trying to find better ways to get around.
The group isn’t connected with a business or corporation per se, it’s adding and contributing to the hyperloop field via its research. The group has won multiple awards showing off its prototypes, two from SpaceX and one from National Instruments, for achievement in the field. In July, the team is off to the Netherlands from a global hyperloop competition to show off what they’ve accomplished.
Ponce, a freshman at UT, said she joined the group as the lead of the suspension systems because she wants to connect communities as nothing else can.
“We’re creating something that truly connects cultures and ideas,” Ponce said.