Tesla and SpaceX may take up most of the headlines, but Hyperloop is yet another Elon Musk invention that may just change the world if it is brought to life.
Leaving planes, trains, and automobiles in the rearview mirror, the Hyperloop is a concept for a high-speed transportation system. The concept consists of pressurised capsules, or pods, travelling within an elevated network of tubes held in a partial vacuum at a speed of up to 1,200 km/h – the speed of sound.
The general idea for such a mode of transport goes back several decades, but it was in 2012 that Musk seriously proposed the idea and began working on it with engineers from Tesla and SpaceX. The resulting design was then published and made open source, with other innovators invited to take it on and bring Hyperloop to life.
While a number of well-funded companies have now emerged in this space, Musk is keen to see young creators take the challenge of bringing Hyperloop to life on, and in 2015 SpaceX announced the building of a mile-long test track that would be used to test pod prototypes created in a global competition in January 2017.
Among the teams taking part is Melbourne’s very own VicHyper, a multi-disciplinary team of 25 students coming out of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
With over 1,300 teams applying, VicHyper was one of just 30 – and the only from the Southern Hemisphere – to be accepted into the January finals.
While most university students would rather spend their time between classes (or during classes) at the campus pub, VicHyper cofounder and project leader Zac McClelland said the team is passionate about working on something that has the potential to completely revolutionise the transport industry.
“This innovative competition is an opportunity for educated young minds to collaborate and that is a very important aspect for the VicHyper team. We want to place Australia as leaders in technology and do something like nobody has ever done before,” he said.
The idea to field a team in the SpaceX competition came to life after cofounder Matt O’Callaghan came across Musk’s white paper on the Hyperloop concept. After researching it further, he found the competition and, seeing no technical roadblocks, pitched the idea of taking part to McClelland.
“I was a bit unsure of the project but after driving four hours from my farm in NSW back to Melbourne, I saw a great need for this futuristic and fast mode of transport. From there, we grew a small team of engineers who were interested in competing,” McClelland explained.
Given the team is working on revolutionary technology, the challenges over the last few have understandably been significant.
“We are designing components that have never been seen before and are being told are above a university level, so the level of difficulty has been high but it’s exciting to be able to live up to this challenge,” McClelland said.
Through their journey, McClelland, O’Callaghan, and the rest of the VicHyper team have been supported by RMIT and the wider tech and startup community in Melbourne.
Eager to share their learnings and their story following the big event they have been working for so long towards in January, the VicHyper team will be presenting a keynote on Tech Day at Pause 2017, an event that has helped the group make key connections and garner support.
“Having had support from the Pause community from the beginning, we know that they can see the future of Australia in our project and we think it is really important to continue to educate people on this technology,” McClelland said.
“We gained excellent support as a direct result of being involved in Pause 2016, and we know that this platform is the perfect ground to exhibit the work we have done. The ethos behind Pause is perfectly aligned with VicHyper.”
While the perfect scenario would see VicHyper share their story of winning the California event with the Pause 2017 audience, whatever the outcome, the team is eager to share their vision for the future of Hyperloop and its potential to further grow Australia’s economy by allowing for the fast transportation of both people and cargo.
As universities debate various strategies to engage women in STEM degrees, the team is also keen to promote the importance of diversity in STEM. McClelland said the team has actively sought to increase the number of women in its team, believing diversity will help breed success.
The team also has key lessons to share with other innovators and creators. They may still be students and their current goal winning a competition, but McClelland believes the team has faced challenges not unfamiliar to any other startup, particularly around gaining the support and funding necessary to bring their project to life.
No matter VicHyper’s result in January, the VicHyper team is excited about what the future holds.
“We’re passionate about making a difference and we’re excited for change,” McClelland said.
“We hope to show Australia that we have some dedicated, passionate, and capable young minds that are ready to make Australia a leader in tech and innovation.”
Pause 2017 will take place at Federation Square on the 8th-10th of February 2017. Tickets can be purchased here.