IIT-M’s Avishkar Is The Only Asian Team To Compete In Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop Competition

A team of students at IIT Madras emerged as the only team from not just India, but Asia, to have been shortlisted for Elon Musk’s International Hyperloop Pod Competition announced in the year 2015. The team will perform in the finals of the competition which will be held in July this year, along with 21 other teams from around the world. Curious Dose talked to the team founder Pranit Mehta to know the behind the scenes of this team called Avishkar Hyperloop, the technology that they use and their goals. this success, called Avishkar Hyperloop, to know everything behind the scenes of their unprecedented success.   

How Did Avishkar Hyperloop Begin

The idea of Avishkar Hyperloop came to a few M.Tech students who got to know about the happenings of the hyperloop competition by SpaceX. It started with the goal of representing IIT Madras and India at this competition, and contributing to the innovation of Hyperloop, which is the fifth mode of transportation.

The team expanded by recruiting several other new members from the same institute. Today, it comprises of 30 engineers, designers and business leaders. It is mainly an effort of a team of students. However, a couple of Faculty Advisors and a few Industrial Advisors have also been constantly guiding them through the process and suggesting changes with their design, based on their experience and expertise.

Over the course of time, the team members have equipped themselves with various skills related to simulation, testing and machining of technologies involved in the development of this high-speed mode of transportation.

All About The Team’s Prototype Hyperloop

Hyperloop, the fifth mode of transportation, is a high-speed train that travels in a near-vacuum tube and uses technologies such as magnetic levitation and Linear Induction Motors (LIM). The reduced air resistance allows the capsule inside the tube to reach speeds of more than 1000 km/h. This becomes achievable owing to significant negligence of both mechanical drag due to friction and air drag due to vacuum conditions.

SpaceX hosts a competition called the Hyperloop Pod Competition since January 2017, to accelerate the development of functional prototypes and encourage student innovation. It a competition where few selected teams build a subscale prototype transport vehicle to demonstrate the technical feasibility of the various aspects of the Hyperloop concept. The final round of this global competition involves testing and evaluation of the actual prototype. This round takes place at the SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California and the fastest pod wins the competition.

Team Avishkar Hyperloop in this competition is working on a wheel-based model, similar to that of an electric vehicle. Their prototype hyperloop pod would run over a set of 4 wheels, powered by individual motors and battery packs. It is approximately 2.7m in length, resting over a chassis made up CFRP.

One of the requirements that the team has to meet is that the pods must be designed and tested, to propel themselves within 100 feet of the far end of the tube before stopping. In order to achieve this, the team will be accelerating for a long distance and then brake down using Pneumatic Braking System, eventually helping them to reach within 100 feet of the far end of the tube. They have done calculations on the distance for which the pod has to be accelerated and decelerated to achieve the maximum possible speed. They have a model I- Rail manufactured to place their Pod and check static factors. They do not yet have a long enough I – Rail to check with their dynamics, but they are planning to get it manufactured. “We are still looking out for facility that could help us test our pod,” said Pranit.

Challenges On The Way

With the only target of achieving the maximum speed, the team members faced a lot of difficulties and setbacks on various factors such as weight, dimensions, controls and placement of components. It was important that they had minimal weight of the pod and optimal dimensions to achieve a decently high speed. Also, ideation and implementation of controls in the pod was a challenge due to the existence of vacuum conditions and the need for quick data transfer.

The team also faced a major challenge of fundraising for the its budget amounting to ₹1 Crore, in a short span of 3 months. The budget of the project is very high and keeping that in ind, it has  identified several avenues for fundraising. They are receiving funds from various industries, alumni and through their crowdfunding portal, being run on Ketto.

Avishkar Hyperloop had qualified only for the preliminary design round of the same SpaceX competition last year. When asked about the differences between the two designs, Mehta said that they had included LIM, Levitation and Eddy Current braking in their design. But this year they are using conventional methods of propulsion and braking. Major setbacks in their previous iteration were weight, which was pretty high, thereby pulling down the speed, and lack of industrial collaboration which held them due to their budget and testing facilities. But this year, having learnt from our previous iteration, the team has focused more on these aspects and have given utmost importance to the safety of the Pod and its travel.

Future Ambitions

Team Avishkar Hyperloop, in the competition finals, are aiming for speeds of around 350 kmph within a distance of 1.5 km. Speaking of what part of the design is going to help to achieve this speed, Mehta said that all the parts of the design are equally important and the speed that they wish to achieve is due to proper co- operation between all the components. The team is trying to achieve a position in the top 3 teams globally and develop various technologies which are not only helpful in the making of Hyperloop but also in various other fields like space technology, defense, transportation and many others.

Winning this competition will bring a lot of support to the team’s further projects. It would also become a huge credibility for them and would open a lot of opportunities to contribute to the development of Hyperloop in India, as a public transport. Pranit said,“Our team has been working day and night to bring the concept of Hyperloop to reality. Our vision is to integrate innovative technologies to reduce the time spent by people on travel and thus open up newer avenues of development for the Indian Economy.”

The team will also research on magnetic levitation in the pod to optimize on the concept seeing possible applications in the full-scale Hyperloop Pod. They will be looking forward to implement levitation and LIM in their pod for the competition to be held in 2020.

After the SpaceX competition this year, the team plans to work on its model for the next year’s competition. “As we look forward to implement Levitation and LIM in the model, it is going to be a completely new iteration and a humongous task,” said Mehta. Depending on availability and other constraints, they could also share our R&D with other commercial companies who are currently working to implement Hyperloop as a full-scale mode of transportation for the public, therefore bringing out optimal technologies for the people. Pranit said, “Getting qualified as the Only Asian Finalist is definitely a proud and joyous moment for every team member. But it also adds on a lot of credibility and responsibility on the team, which has also been motivating the team to work for the competition”

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