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EPFLoop in the running again

The EPFLoop team took the third place last year. © Alban Kakulya

The EPFLoop team took the third place last year. © Alban Kakulya

The EPFLoop team – which took home third place in last year’s Hyperloop Pod Competition – has been selected to compete again, making it one of around 20 short-listed teams that will head to California this summer.

The pressure was on. Not only did last year’s EPFLoop team put in a hugely successful showing, but this year’s team invested a lot of time and energy in a design that would make it through the qualification round. However, the effort paid off – the team was one of the 20-odd entrants selected to compete in the 2019 Hyperloop Pod Competition, beating out thousands of other hopefuls. “Even though we’ve already spent hundreds of hours putting together our team, designing our pod and finding sponsors, the real work is only just beginning,” says Lorenzo Benedetti, the EPFLoop team’s technical leader.

The idea for the Hyperloop Pod Competition came from Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who wanted to promote a fifth kind of transportation – in addition to cars, trains, planes and boats – whereby passengers travel in pods propelled through vacuum tubes called Hyperloops at speeds of up to 1,000 km/h. His company SpaceX launched the Competition in 2015 to test the technical feasibility of his idea. Student teams have to design a self-propelled pod that can travel through a 1.2 km-long Hyperloop test track at maximum speed with successful deceleration.

“Being part of a competition so difficult, where the level of engineering is so high, is an invaluable experience. Last year the team learned how to work with SpaceX engineers, discuss technical specifications and solutions, and implement those solutions within a 24–48-hour timeframe. This year we have a better grasp of what the competition organizers expect and are better poised to meet their requirements, starting with the testing phase at EPFL,” says Benedetti. This year’s competition will take place mid-July 2019 on the test track at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, like last year.

Lighter and more powerful

The EPFLoop team has unveiled the name of its pod: Bella Lui. But the team members are understandably keeping the design and technical details under wraps. Benedetti has nonetheless given us clues about the team’s strategy: “The most important metric for a winning pod is a high power-to-weight ratio. The top three teams last year (from TUM, Delft and EPFL) had pods with very similar ratios, and they all performed nearly equally in the finals. This year we will aim to reduce the weight as much as possible while increasing the power available for the propulsion system.”

Supported by the EPFL Vice-Presidency for Education in the context of interdisciplinary projects, the EPFLoop team currently has 38 members including 33 EPFL students from seven sections. They are being supervised by Professor Mario Paolone, Lorenzo Benedetti and André Hodder. Over 20% of the team members are women. The team is being supported by EPFL’s Senior Management; its three main sponsors are EPFL, the Association of Crans-Montana Municipalities (ACCM) and Bobst, with additional backing from Comsol, Brusa, National Instruments, Forum EPFL, Leclanché and ALLITE.

Last year's fabulous adventure