If Elon Musk gets his way, we’ll not only send humans to Mars, but also make the Earth commute significantly more speedy.Â
One solution? A ground transport system known as a Hyperloop that could potentially move people-bearing pods in sealed tubes at the speed of sound. Imagine, say, travelling from Sydney to Melbourne in only 50 minutes.
To promote experimentation in the fledging industry, Musk’s SpaceX created the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, and one of 30 finalists was unveiled Monday night in Melbourne, Australia.
Known as VicHyper, the mostly carbon fibre prototype is three metres long and one metre high. For now, it can house only one test dummy, but Zac McClelland, VicHyper project leader, assured Mashable it’s “very, very close to competition-ready.”
A team of 30 RMIT students have been working on the project for 18 months, and the VicHyper will travel to the U.S. in January for a final trial on SpaceX’s test track. This follows a preliminary competition in January 2016, when the Victorian team won a technical excellence award for its braking system.
While the Hyperloop vision typically includes a pod travelling within an elevated, pressurised tube network, many of the technological specifics are still undecided. It’s still unclear, for example, whether the pod should be elevated by magnetic levitation or air bearings â a cushion of air.
For the moment, the VicHyper team is even using wheels instead of a levitation system. That’s something Elon Musk has recommended given the technology is still in its early stages, McClelland pointed out.
“I advocate starting with the simplest useful system â I would advocate wheels so then you can say, OK, it’s working,” Musk said at the Jan. 2016 competition, Motherboard reported. “If you’re trying to create a company, itâs important to limit the number of miracles needed in a series. You want to start off with something thatâs the most doable and then expand from there.”
By using wheels, the team is keeping the focus on its four-tiered braking technology, with acceleration provided by linear induction motors.
For McClelland, who is from the rural city of Albury, the future of the Hyperloop is personal. He and a number of his teammates are from parts of Australia where travelling to large cities can be a long, long drive.
“The commute time between those places and Melbourne is four to six hours and we’re getting sick of that,” he said. “We want to develop a future where people don’t have to travel large distances over long periods of time.”
McClelland said he’s not sure what will happen if the team wins, but he wants to be part of bringing the technology to fruition in Australia.
“In Australia, it would be nice to see it in the next 10 to 15 years, but we’ll have to wait to see,” he said.