Science and Business: Bringing skills that keep Waterloop on track

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Waterloop design team members.Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, has produced 24 finalists, including the University of Waterloo’s Team Waterloop, the only all-Canadian university team with a working pod.

With such an ambitious goal in sight, it’s no wonder Waterloop’s student-led design team is larger than most small companies. So yes, there’s paperwork. And with more than 300 students revolving between actively building the pod to taking time off for co-op terms and heavy academic schedules, it can be hard keeping the team focused and making progress.

Rajeet Saha, Nicholas Jelich, and Yi Dong with Science and Business lecturer Dr. Okey Igboeli.Rajeet Saha, Nicholas Jelich, and Yi Dong with Science and Business newest lecturer, Dr. Okey Igboeli.

Waterloo Science and Business students Rajeet Saha, Nicholas Jelich, and Yi Dong are part of the administration and marketing team tasked with purchasing, business strategy, sponsorship and event planning.

“One of things I’ve learned in class that I’ve used here is organizational behaviour and management – learning how organizational structures work, how to get things done, especially in knowing how to maintain your calm and what resources to allocate where. We’re always having these time crunches,” says Jelich. “There’s a lot of administrative work to do, but there’s of course a lot of hands on technical stuff that needs to be done too.”

“We’re working with around 70 people on the team right now – that’s a lot to manage,” adds Saha. “Our professors have taught us to be on topic, be on our game, and have our goals set up.”

Technology set to change the transportation game

Waterloop’s second prototype Goose II has just been approved to participate in a mile-long competition at the Space X Hyperloop track in Hawthorne, California at the end of August.

Team Waterloop was complimented numerously at Competition 1 back in January that their pod was easily one of the most inexpensive pods there is among all their competitors.

Waterloop team talking to Elon Musk about Goose I in January 2017.““We don’t want to over-engineer it – we want make it scalable and we’re thinking ahead of time," says Jelich. "He [Elon Musk] was also impressed with how our marketing team promoted the pod and awareness of the project itself."

So imagine traveling from Toronto to Montreal in just 30 minutes, using renewable energy. Such is the promise of Hyperloop, a super high-speed passenger train technology conceived by Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX.

SpaceX has already built the Hyperloop test track at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California. It’s a steel, low-pressure tube 2.3 meters in diameter. The low pressure reduces drag to near zero on the passenger pod traveling in the tube, allowing it to go faster than any bullet train.

With a test track in place, all they need now is the pod, which is why Musk and SpaceX initiated the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition: a challenge to teams around the world to build a half-scale magnetic levitating passenger pod within a year.

While this technology seems to be developing fast, the concept of objects transported in vacuum tubes has been around for a while. Drive-through banks and hospitals routinely use vacuum tubes to transport samples and paperwork.

“It’s very interesting how with innovation there’s always some forward thinker who thought this up, but now we have the technology to bring it together,” says Jelich.

In this case, the technology needed to bring Hyperloop together is the frictionless pod carrying passengers and goods. So how can a train travel without wheels or stop without brakes?

The secret lies in the Goose II’s pneumatic air caster levitation and magnetic wheels.

The air casters lift the pod off the ground so that it floats on a thin film of air underneath.

The pod’s “wheels” are powered by a Hallbach array, a magnet arrangement attached to the outside of the pod that produces a strong current. When the current spins it creates traction just like a regular wheel would, except that it’s contactless. The brakes operate on a similar principle.

By making the wheels and brakes contactless, the team is working towards building future prototypes that will be able to approach speeds up to 1200 km/hour, nearly the speed of sound.

Waterloop unveils their latest pod, Goose II, at an event in Waterloo July 2017.Waterloop unveils their latest pod, Goose II, at an event in Waterloo July 2017.

At the unveiling of Goose II last month, Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur remarked,

“This is a great moment of pride for us. Not just our students but for our entire community. What we’re seeing here is the brilliance. What we’re seeing here is fantastic leadership. What we’re seeing here is thinking outside the box.”

Team Waterloop and the Goose II travel to Hawthorne, California August 25-27th.