Avishkar Hyperloop - Transcending Transits

Arnab Bhadra, IIT Madras

2019-03-08 08:11:47

Credit: IIT Madras

Credit: IIT Madras

From wheels, to winged flight; from fuel engines, to electricity; from hours, to minutes. Technology has always been about change; a change for the better. And HYPERLOOP promises to deliver just that.

                The idea seems simple; small, sleek pods carrying cargo and hurtling through vacuumized (de-pressurized?) tubes at speeds approaching the sonic barrier. The physics behind it, though, is an unforgiving mistress.

                When Elon Musk first unveiled his paper on the hyperloop, a multitude of organizations started working on this technology that promises to alter transit as we know it. The results would culminate in a

student-only competition held every year at California. The meritorious SpaceX Hyperloop Pod


                And this year, Avishkar Hyperloop from India has its eyes on the finish line.

About Avishkar Hyperloop:

                Avishkar hyperloop is a student team from IIT Madras that dreams of validating their hyperloop concept and bringing it to fruition. And this year, they are closer than ever; they have qualified to represent India at the final stage of the competition, where they will race their pod amongst the very best.

Where it all began:

                The much celebrated release of the white paper on the hyperloop elicited a startling response from the tech world; a multitude of tech conglomerates and start-ups started working on the proposed concept religiously. SpaceX, however, had a different perspective in mind; searching for the most tech-hungry people on the planet, the Hyperloop Pod competition was set up, where student teams from across the world could race their pod and validate their design ideas.

                The competition is organized in three stages:

● Preliminary Design Briefing

● Final Design Briefing

● Hyperloop Pod Finals at SpaceX, California.

                For the purpose of this competition, a 1 mile track was set up at SpaceX, California, where the final phase of the competition would take place. The first edition of the competition, held on January of 2017, was the first of its kind; subsequent editions held on August 2017 and July 2018 also met critical success.

                In 2017, a student team was set up, consisting of like minded individuals who had a radical idea that might possibly help realize the Hyperloop. The theory was simple; levitating pods with electromagnetic fields and propelling it forward.

                The team would grow in size, with more and more motivated individuals trusting the science behind their theory. Their efforts would bear fruit; in their first ever year, Avishkar became one of the only teams to get through the first stage of the competition, becoming one of only 48 teams of the 1500 that participated that year. However, due to a lack of resources and unfinished research on their hypothesis, the dream was brought to a halt when they did not qualify for the next stage.

                This year, however, the team has strategized. The propulsion would be via conventional wheels, with behind-the-scenes work being carried out on the LIM. And this year, Avishkar is going strong. Learning form their previous experience, they have laid the groundwork for their resources and are closer than before to achieving their goal.

The Timeline:

                Deciding to proceed with a wheel-based propulsion this year, the team procured compatible motors, power sources and associated gizmo. Most of the designs, such as the wheels, chassis, etc. would be custom made. The report for the Preliminary Design round (PDR) was submitted as needed on 4th November 2018. By the end of that month, SpaceX had given Avishkar the go ahead for the next stage. The following month would be crucial. Each subsystem had their work cut out for them. Meetings and deliberations would go on late into the night. Time was but an illusion. Subsystems would have to update their designs regularly to accommodate the needs of the entire pod. Safety and performance, two usually contradictory factors, were made to go hand in hand. Prototypes were made and tested, the results of which would further alter designs. Special protocols set by SpaceX had to be adhered to.

Finally, on the 11th of January, a 122 page document detailing a comprehensive design of the final pod was submitted to SpaceX.

                After combing through the document, an exclusive panel set up by SpaceX contacted Avishkar for the final step; a round of interviews that would validate the hypothesis, at least in theory. The results of these dialogues were conclusive; Avishkar hyperloop would be racing towards the finish line by July.

                This is where the non-technical team came into play. A budget detailing the timeline of pod manufacture was written up; realizing that budget was a monumental task. Extensive media propaganda, alumni reach-outs, industrial tie-ups, crowd-funding portals – any source of capital was a diamond in the mine.

                While the capital was being raised by the non-technical team, the Testing phase began. Necessary tests were carried out for each component, however small; this was crucial, as the pod would be operating at very low pressure conditions that could have unpredictable effects on their functioning. Once these tests were performed and the results were validated, the pod could finally be manufactured.

This is where Avishkar is right now. Multiple tests are being carried out every week, with conclusive results that will help in finalizing manufacturability. Designing the pod on paper and actually realizing that design is a herculean task, and the team is going at it strong.

                The final Manufacturing phase will eat up the next three months, up until the very day of the competition. Every subsystem needs to be in peak condition; every action needs to be deliberate; every response needs to be accounted for.

                Once the pod has been built; once every screw, nut and bolt has been accounted for; and once every subsystem has satisfactorily exhausted its requirements and combined amicably with others, the pod will be on its way to California. There, it will be reunited with the team on the first week of July, and will compete with 21 other teams from all over the world and hopefully, emerge victorious in this battle of speeds.

                But this is just the first step. Avishkar’s vision does not end with winning the competition and being adjudged fastest in the world. Participating and winning the competition is one of the many milestones that lie on our way in making the Hyperloop vision a reality in India. Progress will be gradual; Safety, Reliability, and Performance will be monitored and improved upon. New avenues for research and exhibition will be looked into; as mentioned earlier, parallel research is being done on Linear Induction Motors (LIMs) and Magnetic Levitation. This is not an overnight process, and will require gargantuan perseverance. When we can finally come up with a idea that pairs up with the real-life transit scenarios in India, we can start laying out tracks, so to speak.

                The vision seems ambitious; and that’s why, in a way, Avishkar is a visionary group. Someone has to take the leap, and that is exactly what this team is all about. And this journey is not a solo affair; we expect interest in this idea to increase tremendously, now that we have established a start. We expect many more people, students and teams to join us in our endeavor, and this is your opportunity to be a part of the future.