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Student-Designed Hyperloop Pod: Q&A with Texas Guadaloop's Civil Engineers

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Aug. 24, 2017

Civil engineers will continue to play a key role in developing the transportation system of the future. Their designs and analyses will be instrumental in developing safe, cost-effective and robust designs. If Hyperloop is to be “the fifth mode of transportation,” civil engineers will help make this happen.

Meet the CAEE engineers who helped with the design process of a Hyperloop pod for Texas Guadaloop, one of UT Austin’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition II teams.  The team testing its pod on August at SpaceX Hyperloop track in Hawthorne, California along with 23 other international teams. They won an innovation award for their levitation system based on air bearings.

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Sara Alkayali Alalam (MS 2016), Dan Coleman (MS 2016), and Ramez Hajj (MS 2016)

Please explain your role on the Texas Guadaloop Hyperloop pod project.

Sara: My main contribution to the Texas Guadaloop team was creating the initial project management and build plan. Since the pod had a number of different complex, interdependent systems, (structures, brakes, pneumatics, sensors…to name a few), it was important to make sure the progress on one system was not impeded by that of another. For example, the steel structure had to be ready before the brakes could be installed, so we used a Lean construction concept called the Last Planner System to come up with the initial plan. I also helped in the beginning of the build process and helped with the structural team.

Ramez: Initially, I began by helping to design the structural frame of the pod.  This included finite element analysis to make sure the frame could handle the loads applied from the propulsion and the loads of the pod components.  After this, I continued to stay involved through the Design Weekend held at Texas A&M where we presented our design to SpaceX, and then through the build phase, where I’ve helped with various components including pneumatics, electronics, and the test track.

Dan: I was primarily involved with the structural design of the pod. This included working with Ramez to develop an initial frame concept, building a finite element model that incorporated dynamic loading conditions, designing a truss system that evenly distributed a point load propulsion to full circumference of the fuselage, and working alongside those drafting the pod to analyze suspension details. I also presented our structural design at the original Hyperloop Competition Design Weekend held at Texas A&M.

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Ramez and Dan work on the finite element anaylsis of Hyperloop frame.The frame of the pod is the most important stucture as all the subsystems mount to it.

How long have you been on the Hyperloop team and why did you join?

Sara: I was on the Texas Guadaloop team during my last semester at UT (I graduated in May 2016). During the previous year, I had travelled to Saudi Arabia to present at the CityQuest’15 summit and one of the speakers at the summit was Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. After I heard his speech about the vision for a new mode of transportation that may solve a lot of our transportation problems, I knew I had to get involved. Luckily, a few weeks later, Vik Parthiban (now Guadaloop COO!) reached out for volunteers for the Texas Guadaloop team.

Ramez: I’ve been with the Texas Guadaloop team for almost two years now.  I joined in October 2015 because it seemed like an opportunity like no other- to create a new mode of transportation that could make rapid travel across long distances a reality. I thought it would be amazing if something that I helped design could be one day used to help solve our transportation issues.

Dan: I was a part of the team from 2015-2016 until I graduated from UT and took a full time job on the other side of the country. I originally joined the team, first and foremost, because I’m excited about the technology and I wanted to contribute, even if in a small way, to seeing it come to fruition. Secondly, I saw an opportunity to practice modeling the dynamic response of a unique structural system. Now that I am a year out of school and have gained more experience, I’m sure that I could improve on the design process but I’m certainly grateful that I challenged myself on the Hyperloop project. 

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Both of the UT Austin Hyperloop teams have members with varied expertise and backgrounds. Please comment on what it was like working with engineers and other contibutors from different disciplines.

Sara: It is amazing how much you could learn just by having a short conversation with any Texas Guadaloop engineer. The team not only has engineers, but also artists, business majors, and more, because it takes a team to make this vision a reality. 

Ramez: It was a great experience!  I learned about components that I’d never thought about before, including mechanical and electrical engineering concepts that I’d previously known very little about.  We have students from all types of backgrounds working on the pod, both engineering and not, and my biggest takeaway is that you don’t necessarily need the academic background to contribute to a project like this, just the willingness to learn and work hard.  I’ve made great friends through this project and look forward to seeing where this concept goes next.

Dan: It was such an amazing experience. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on meetings while the mechanical  engineers talked about principles of fluid flow or the electrical engineers presented their plan for installing pod sensors. The project gave me a unique perspective into how brilliant the Texas engineers are in each and every discipline. Watching a team of students with totally different skillsets come together and develop a design for a technology that’s yet to be invented was inspiring. It makes me think of the Texas motto, “what starts here changes the world.” It is more than just branded words. I watched a room full of incredibly bright, young engineers leverage each other’s talents to solve a problem and push forward even after their initial design was not selected for the first Hyperloop competition in 2016. Even if this specific Hyperloop technology isn’t what changes the world, I’m confident the people who worked on this project certainly will.

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