VicHyper take future Hyperloop transportation idea from Melbourne to California

What’s it like to prepare for the biggest race of your life?

That’s more or less the challenge that entrepreneur Elon Musk set up with his SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition — to design and build a pod that could one day transport people through a vacuum tube at incredible speeds.

VicHyper, a 25-member team of engineering, industrial design, communications and graphic design students from RMIT University were smart enough to be selected as one of 30 teams from around the world out of 1200+ entries. At the design weekend phase of the competition in January 2016, the team won the Braking Subsystem Technical Excellence Award. They were the only Australian team to make it through to the next round.

Brew Ha Ha — Get sucked into Hyperloop

Over a weekend January 27–29, 2017, 26 out of the 30 teams gathered in California to have the opportunity to test their Hyperloop pods. In the end, only 3 pods passed the nine tests that enabled them to be tested. Unfortunately, VicHyper did not get to trial their pod but not without receiving an honourable mention for the Pod Innovation Award.

Participating in a huge international competition is an immense achievement that the entire VicHyper team should be proud of.

Now that the competition is over and they are back in Australia, we wanted to talk to them about their experience. We managed to get hold of Zac McClelland who is the project leader of VicHyper.

In 50 words or less, could you describe what a Hyperloop pod is?

The Hyperloop pod is a vehicle that is able to carry passengers and cargo at the speed of sound. It does this by the large tube network that it travels within. This allows the pod to levitate and work in a vacuum so that it does not encounter aerodynamic drag.

What was the motivation that made you decide you wanted to enter the Hyperloop competition?

For me it was me getting sick of the long commute times between the farm in country NSW and Melbourne for university. Matt (O’Callaghan, VicHyper project manager) rang me one night telling me that he had found the competition and after the 4.5hr journey I decided I needed to be involved.

From your website:

Proudly supporting diversity within STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — half of our team members have at least one parent born overseas, one third are from regional Victoria and we are actively increasing the number of our female team members.
VicHyper has recently been awarded the Highly Commended Certificate at the #TechDiversity Awards by Honorary Philip Dalidakis, Minister of Small Business, Innovation and Trade.

You have an amazingly diverse team — did you all know each other from your classes already?

Not everyone in the team knew each other. We would recruit one person from a different field and each one of them would bring along another exceptional member.

Was it hard building a team and identifying skill gaps? It’s much harder than picking your two buddies for uni group assignments!

Whenever we noticed that there was a skill gap we would go and look for someone to fill it. This allowed for a diverse range of people.

What was it like participating in a huge international competition? What did you learn?

It was the most amazing experience. It truly was a collaborative effort by all teams that were involved. Everyone just wanted to help make the transport industry better.

And to be at the headquarters of SpaceX was quite a surreal experience for all the engineers.

Did you get to meet Elon Musk? Were there other interesting people you met at the competition?

Unfortunately, we did not get to meet Elon. He was very busy and was quite heavily guarded by security. Not to mention every single person there wanted to talk to him.

I understand Ultraspeed who represent Hyperloop One in Australia have managed to propose to a parliamentary committee to consider Hyperloop as a genuine alternative to high-speed rail — where do you see this making an impact in Australia? Do you think with government support and the existing interest in testing in Australia it will definitely happen?

I think it would make a large impact to the east coast of Australia. Linking Melbourne to Sydney to Brisbane would have a huge impact on our country. So to get the government support would be amazing so that we can show that Australia is truly a hub of science and innovation.

Corny question but what’s next for VicHyper? Will you be still improving your design?

VicHyper are going to keep pushing forward with developing systems for the Hyperloop. Not only does the team love working on the tech, but we feel that we are the best chance to keep Australia at the forefront of this exciting technology right now.

To learn more about VicHyper, visit their website here.