University Students Compete to Build SpaceX’s Hyperloop

Over 100 Arizona students are working together to compete in SpaceX’sworldwide Hyperloop pod competition to bring high-speed mass transportation to the state.


AZLoop is the state’s competition team comprised of students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona State University in Tempe, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, said Lynne Nethken, AZLoop’s project co-lead.

“We’re working our way through several qualifier rounds, and we’re now on the last round,” said Nethken, an ASU masters student in mechanical engineering. “From there, SpaceX will tell us if we are clear to build. If selected, we will build some of the first prototypes ever for the Hyperloop system.”

If chosen to continue in the competition, the team will get to launch its prototype pod in the one-mile test track this summer in Hawthorne, California.

The Hyperloop is a proposed form of high-speed mass transportation that can achieve speeds of up to 750 miles per hour.

Instant Data Centers, a Tempe company that manufactures outdoor-rated edge micro data centers, have provided an industry advisor to the team.

Simon Rohrich, a design engineer at Instant Data Centers, is a personal advisor to the group on the engineering side. Rohrich said he has been “fascinated” by the Hyperloop concept after reading about the technology in Robert Heinlein’s science fiction book, “Double Star.”

Instant Data Centers can eventually help with the high bandwidth communication needed and rapid localized data processing for the Hyperloop that is moving at “near supersonic speeds” along the Hyperloop route, Rohrich said.

“The Hyperloop will require localized computer support along the track path,” said Rohrich, a Chandler resident. “We can plant a tiny data center with high-performance computers at every pump station along the route wherever they’re needed to also accelerate the construction process.”

Rohrich founded Elliptical Mobile Solutions in 2005, which Instant Data Centers acquired last year.

Although several routes for the Hyperloop are being discussed, one route would take travelers from Phoenix to San Diego, a common destination spot for Valley residents, in about a half an hour. Other routes could go to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Albuquerque, Nethken said.

“We are trying to make this a network in Arizona to connect our states with surrounding states,” said Nethken, a Gilbert resident. “We have this long-term goal of bringing this to Arizona as well. We will continue doing this until we can see this realized in Arizona.

“This really is a way to revolutionize transportation,” she said. “This changes the game. There’s a much bigger picture here than just a really fast, cool new way to travel. This has remarkable benefits that can be implemented by having this technology here in Arizona.”

The goal is to build infrastructure for the route to make it faster and less expensively, Rohrich said.

The AZLoop’s pod uses magnetic levitation, compressed air compulsion and a low-power system to run, Nethken said.

The volunteer team, which has been working on the project in phases since October 2015, has each member contributing at least 10 hours a week on the project, Nethken said.

The AZLoop team is working with grants, private donors and sponsors to help fund the research and development phase. It will take about $60,000 to build the prototype, and the group has secured about half of that, Nethken said.

The team will give a final design presentation to SpaceX next week and will know by the end of the month if they can continue on in the competition, she said.

“We’re confident in our design that we will pull through in the competition,” Nethken said. “We are extremely well prepared. We’re looking forward to the next stage, the build stage, so we can start fabricating and manufacturing the competition pod.”

Josh Kosar, another project co-lead, said he’s excited because this is a “real-world problem,” and a chance to meet with engineers and SpaceX employees they want to work with in the future.

“We feel quite honored to be as far along as we are,” said Kosar, an ASU senior studying robotics engineering at the Polytechnic campus. “This will put us ahead in transportation innovation. We’re just really excited to bring Arizona to the future of transportation.”

The AZLoop group is also working with ASU to build a six foot in diameter, one-half mile test track of their own at the Polytechnic Campus to test out their pod locally, Nethken said.

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