RMIT students paving the way for high speed transport with SpaceX Hyperloop

The world’s first levitating high-speed train prototype could come out of Melbourne, with a team of RMIT University students beating out 1700 other entrants to become a finalist in Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition.

The VicHyper team of 30 students unveiled their prototype in Melbourne on Monday, November 21. It is a functional pod that could one day realise the dream of a high speed alternative to rail with the ability to dash commuters from Melbourne to Sydney in just 50 minutes. They will take the prototype to the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition Weekend in California from January 27-29.

VicHyper project leader Zac McClelland said the win showed that the Victorian team was capable of taking transport around the world to the next level.

“At VicHyper, we are anticipating the transportation needs of tomorrow rather than reacting to the problems of today. Hyperloop will be the solution to connect us like never before.

“Imagine living in Melbourne and working in Sydney with only a 50 minute commute, or travelling to regional Australia within minutes. We are making it a reality.”

What is Hyperloop?

While the concept was created by Elon Musk, it is being developed by Hyperloop Tech. The company’s vice president in charge of worldwide business development Alan James explains that the revolution in transport – which involves a levitating pod travelling at the speed of sound through a purpose-built tunnel’ was perfect for countries like Australia.

“(There are) some obvious 21st century smart corridors, the Australian east coast being a classic (example).”

There are currently six planes an hour in each direction between Melbourne and Sydney, which James says is unsustainable.

So how does Hyperloop work?

“We levitate rather than using wheels,” says James. “ But, unlike convention maglev (magnetic levitation), we don’t use power, we use a passive maglev. So we can accelerate the vehicle to over 1,000km/h and because there is no resistance and no friction it just cruises for the next 60 kilometres without using any energy at all. That is massively transformational.”

The power of collaboration

The team behind the RMIT pod comes from a range of disciplines, including; aerospace, electrical and mechanical engineering, industrial design, communications and graphic design. RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President Martin Bean said it was this meeting of minds that created the successful project.

“As well as working across disciplines, collaboration with industry has been at the heart of the VicHyper project, with our students being generously guided and mentored by industry leaders and practitioners,” Martin says. “By developing the very first Australian Hyperloop pod prototype, the VicHyper team is helping turn science fiction into science reality.”

High speed imperative to connectivity

Alan James said one of the biggest drawbacks to modern transport was that it did not match the expectations of a digital world. “Digital lives is about instant online access to all knowledge everywhere. It’s about fulfilment in 30 minutes. Transport still takes weeks or days where it should be taking minutes,” he said.

Infrastructure Association of Queensland chief executive Steve Abson said Hyperloop had the power to bridge that gap. “As our Australian cities continuously urbanise and develop, we face the problem of increasing our connectivity,” he said. “With vast lands and long distances between our major cities, we must look for new and innovative means to connect us.

“Hyperloop could provide this solution. It is only a matter of time before we have a major high-speed transport network connecting our major cities, especially along the Australian eastern seaboard.”