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India’s 'Avishkar' is Asia's only team to qualify for SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition 

This image released by Hyperloop One shows the first Prototype of Hyperloop One Pod on July 12, 2017. US startup Hyperloop One announced the first successful full-systems test of its near-supersonic rail transit system. Photograph:( AFP )

WION Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India Jun 14, 2019, 06.59 PM (IST) Written By: Sidharth MP

As Maharashtra is working with Britain's Virgin Hyperloop to have trials of the Hyperloop project parallel to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, a team of students from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) is making rapid strides with their very own Hyperloop Pod. The team will soon be battling it out in the finals of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Challenge in California, United States.

Hyperloop is the 5th mode of transportation, a high-speed train/pod that travels in a near vacuum tube. The reduced air resistance allows the capsule inside the tube to reach more than 1000km/h. Elon Musk, founder SpaceX, proposed the idea of Hyperloop to the world in 2013 through the white paper - ‘Hyperloop Alpha’. His company SpaceX organises the Hyperloop Pod Competition to accelerate the development of functional prototypes and encourage student innovation. Finalists’ pods are required to travel at maximum speeds within the vacuum tube, the team with the fastest pod emerges winner and gets to interact with Elon Musk. 

This year, over 1,600 teams from across the globe applied for the challenge. India's Avishkar emerged in the top 21 finalists and is the only team from Asia to do so in the 2019 edition of the competition. 

Avishkar’s pod is indigenously designed and developed and is said to be India’s first-ever self-propelled, completely autonomous Hyperloop Pod in India.

This is the second attempt for team Avishkar that comprises of students from various science and engineering related academic backgrounds. The team had earlier applied in 2018 and failed to make it past the second round and did not qualify for the finals, said Suyash, student's head, Avishkar. 

Speaking at the unveiling event of the Hyperloop Pod, Sivakumar, Dean of students said, “we need to thank Elon musk for making the challenge open to all and our students have taken up the challenge”.

Explaining the technology behind hyperloop he said, “current trains or buses or flights have frictional resistance and energy is wasted. Whereas magnetic levitation is to prevent friction from the ground and the vacuum tube eliminates air drag and friction. So effectively it is a train within a vacuum pipe and the train runs a few inches above the track without making contact and almost eliminating friction”. 

"Our students are ready and they are running tests on the model and we are sure that the hard work will pay off," he added expressing optimism about the team. 

Professor Satya Chakravarthy of the aerospace department said, our students will be going to California and as a part of the competition the pod will be run on a 1-mile long test track. Once this technology is a success it could be scaled up to 15 meters - almost the size of a bus. The team is also testing our pod at a 30-metre long test track here at the campus.

Elaborating on the specifications of the pod, the team members said that, “we came up with an electric motor called a Brushless DC motor which is small yet highly powerful and efficient. The battery connects to the motor directly without an inverter and there is no gearbox in the middle, we also tested the motors at higher than 15000RPM.”

The team uses a lightweight carbon fibre body for the chassis and a high-power battery pack that weigh less than 20 kilograms and provides over 900Amps output power. The pod uses three battery packs one each for the motors, sensors and emergency requirements.

On the road ahead for this technology, the team says that once it is proven, it could then be used as a totally revolutionary mode of transport. With adequate investment and infrastructure, it could enable travel between Chennai and Bangalore - a distance of around 500 kilometres in less than 30 minutes. Although we have developed the pod, we will also need to master the vacuum tube technology to completely indigenize it.

The 30-member team and their work has garnered attention with the central government also having sought additional project related information.

“The most basic challenge is the designing itself as Hyperloop is very new and we don’t have existing material to refer to, so we had to come up with ideas and concepts and then seek approval from the professors before going further. But we have done several tests on the prototype and are sure that we can achieve great speeds at the competition”, said Pranit Mehta head, marketing and sponsorship team. 

After completing more rounds of tests, the team is all set to fly to California and prove their mettle when they battle it out with 20 other finalists from across the globe on July 21.

Story highlights

This year, over 1,600 teams from across the globe applied for the challenge. India's Avishkar emerged in the top 21 finalists.