Vhyper, Virginia Tech’s Hyperloop team, will unveil its entry for the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition on Monday. The pod will be used during the second part of a Hyperloop competition to be held at the SpaceX test track in January.

See video from the Sept. 12 unveiling

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Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation system using a passenger-carrying pod in a near-vacuum tube that is envisioned to reach speeds in excess of 700 mph. The brainchild of Tesla founder Elon Musk, Hyperloop took a step closer to reality in 2016 when more than 120 teams participated in an international design competition at Texas A&M University. The Virginia Tech team placed fourth and received an invitation to build its pod and test it at a 1-mile testing track at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California in January 2017.

Shayan Malik, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering from Leesburg, Virginia, is the Vhyper lead for 2016-17. Although not part of the original design team, Malik said he got involved after the design competition when the team was looking for additional help.

“Seeing a group of undergraduate students start from nothing and create something spectacular motivated me, and I went through the team’s interview process to gauge my qualifications, commitment, and passion for the technology,” Malik said.

Currently, 33 undergraduate students comprise the Hyperloop team. “We have mechanical, aerospace, computer, electrical, industrial, and materials engineers,” Malik said. “We also have representation from the Pamplin College of Business. Each person plays a very specific role in the integration of our team.”

While the original design team got together to “give it a shot,” the mood within the build space is more serious and focused now.

“For lack of a better term, it’s more ‘real,’” Malik said. “We’ve shifted from an idea on paper to a tangible Hyperloop pod. The fast-paced progression from design to build shaped the attitude of the team from ‘this is a cool idea’ to ‘we are working on something larger than ourselves’.”

The team’s success, despite competing against larger teams made up primarily of graduate students, comes from a foundation of basic research discipline — modeling, analytics, computer design, and individual component testing.

“Designing, testing, and manufacturing any product in six months isn’t easy,” Malik said, “let alone a Hyperloop pod. But one important lesson we’ve learned is we have the ability to overcome obstacles and get the most out of the potential of each member of the team. The design competition validated the direction of our design and allowed us to scope out what was next – so we knew where we excelled and what we needed to work on. The nature of manufacturing is that things don’t quite go to plan, and we come up with solutions to solve these issues.”

Despite the challenges of levitation, acceleration, and stopping a pod, Malik said the biggest challenge the team has overcome had nothing to do with the actual build. “Space,” he said. “We’ve taken care of the engineering, the personnel, and the funding, but real estate at Virginia Tech is a difficult commodity to come by. We’ve made sure Hyperloop at Virginia Tech maintains solid relationships with many departments, including those who have generously offered us space to work in over the last year.”

In the past seven months, the Vhyper team has collected more than $70,000 in sponsorships from Virginia Tech departments, corporations, and local businesses to help them build their one-of-a-kind vehicle.

After the public unveiling of the pod Monday, the team will spend the next several months optimizing components and running fully integrated tests.

“Testing, testing, testing,” Malik said. “That’s what we’ll be doing. And all the while we’ll be thanking our sponsors, Virginia Tech, and friends of the team who have helped get us to this point and who I am sure will continue to support us as we prepare for the competition in January.”

As part of the upcoming competition in January, SpaceX will use a pusher system to accelerate all pods to speeds of around 200 mph on a 1-mile long test track. The Vhyper team wants to achieve higher velocity with a cold-gas propulsion system they believe will be unique to the competition.

Monday’s unveiling will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Litton-Reeves Hall, room 1670. The event is open to the public and also will be broadcast online from the university’s YouTube page.

Written by Rosaire Bushey

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