How We Built the First Canadian Hyperloop Pod 🚄

About Our Humble Human Beings

Many times we’ve been asked, how did our organization start and how we became the only all-Canadian 🇨🇦 team in the SpaceX Competition. This post is aimed to answer all of those questions, as well as provide insights on the technology used in our first ever Hyperloop pod.

How Did It All Begin?

It all begun when SpaceX released their first official white paper about Hyperloop. The document provided the world with a brief overview of the technology, it helped resolve various issues that were currently seen as roadblocks, but most importantly it introduced the concept to the masses of students and passionate entrepreneurs around the world.

Hyperloop pod sketches from SpaceX Hyperloop Alpha paper

That’s when a group of students from the University of Waterloo filled out an official application to enter the competition. In 2015, more than 700 teams had submitted preliminary applications to join the race to build Hyperloop pods and one of them was us, team Waterloop. Later that year, a preliminary design briefing was held, where more than 120 student engineering teams were selected to submit their Final Design package.

Elon Musk giving a speech at the Texas A&M opening ceremony (2016). Photo credit

In January 2016, at Texas A&M University, approximately 120 worldwide teams were reviewed and judged. Around 30 teams were selected to go forward and build prototype Hyperloop pods for the competition later in the year. Waterloop’s design of Goose I received approval from SpaceX engineers and then it was time to build 🔧 the actual pod.

To raise the funds that were needed to build a pod, Waterloop launched a Kickstarter campaign, that quickly became a hit. With 507 backers, the team was able to collect 200 times its goal and use all the funds raised to support the construction of the pod.

What is Hyperloop in One sentence?

A hyperloop is a train in a vacuum tube that is able to go at extremely fast speeds because in a vacuum tube, there is no air resistance.

Building Our First Hyperloop Pod, Goose I

The team started with the levitation system; there are multiple approaches to building a levitating pod and every team has their own take on the task; however, everyone seems to agree that a levitating pod is the future of transportation technology.

Looking at existing methods of transportation like trains, that have shown potential to reach incredibly high speeds: Tōkaidō Shinkansen.

A JR West N700 series train passing Maibara Station on the Tokaido Shinkansen in January 2011. Photo credit

One can see that high-speed rail technology has reached a point of very low diminished returns. The more money gets invested into the train, the less output is received. This is due to the fact that with friction propulsion, the train is always in contact with the rail, which means that every single bump that would be negligible at low speed is much more dangerous at higher speeds.

Diminishing return graph. Photo credit

High-speed vibration is becoming one of the biggest issues that trains have to overcome. Not only with extremely powerful suspension systems, but also by keeping the railroad to a much higher standard. This makes the technology incredible expensive, very fast, and produces only slight speed improvements (i.e., diminishing return).

As a solution to eliminating wheels in the pod, Waterloop’s plan was to use a set of four air-bearings around the vehicle and gradually release air through the system to create an air cushion between the pod and track. A good real-life example of similar technology being used are in air hockey tables.

Puck sliding on air hockey table. Photo Credit

An air hockey table usually has hundreds of small holes that gradually release air and raise the puck off the table, which is why the puck slides so well across the surface. It experiences zero friction with the table, so there is very little force to slow it down!

Goose I levitation system. A set of four air bearings, two air tanks and a partially assembled pneumatic circuit. (2016)

Similarly, a set of four air bearings allows Goose I to travel through the tube with zero friction. In order to develop the system, the team had to also create a complete pod frame and a pneumatic circuit that would route and distribute high-pressure air to the air-bearings. Below is the video of the levitation unveil, where out of all the teams, Waterloop became the first one to showcase pneumatic levitation.

After the team was able to successfully achieve levitation of the pod, the next challenge was building the braking system.

If a Hyperloop pod were to use only friction brakes, the brakes are likely to melt.

Burnout Until the Brakes Catch Fire. Video credit

For this reason a combination of friction-less and friction brakes are used to avoid the possibility of the brakes melting.

In this case, deceleration at high-speeds is achieved by sliding an array of permanent magnets (Halbach array) across the I-beam which is installed inside the Hyperloop track.

Eddy Current Frictionless Brakes of the Goose I

Later, when the pod has decelerated to safe speeds, friction brakes engage as well to ensure a complete stop of the pod.

Friction Brakes of the Goose I

With the designed system, the pod is capable of decelerating from very high-speeds without generating an excessive amount of heat from friction brakes.

Finally, after completing the braking system, the next challenge for the team was building a shell. The design started by creating a shell skeleton that would provide the pod with rigidity that is needed for the high-speed nature of the Hyperloop.

Goose I shell skeleton

Later, sheets of aluminum were applied over the skeleton to complete the pod shell construction and cover it with logos of all sponsors that have been supporting us throughout the competition. The shell design became very iconic to Waterloop and our school as it was the first ever Hyperloop pod 🚄fully designed and manufactured in Canada

One more piece was missing from the pod in order to qualify for the SpaceX competition, the emergency drive.

Goose I friction drive with an electric motor and a pneumatic system to deploy and retract the wheel. (2016)

Competition guidelines specified that teams must have an emergency drive system to get their pods out of the tube if other methods of propulsion fail. As a solution, team Waterloop designed a retractable wheel that can be used in cases of an emergency, but is removed when the main method of propulsion is active.

Finally, as all the sub-systems came together the team was able to assemble the Goose I pod. A vehicle that got to proudly represent Canada at the national stage at SpaceX competition.

Goose I assembly with all the main components shown. (2016)

During the pod construction, Waterloop has been able to answer a list of important questions and achieve amazing team milestones:

  1. Becoming the first team in the competition to showcase an air-bearing based levitation system.
  2. Building the entire administrative team infrastructure and growing the team from 15 to 30 members.
  3. Gaining the support of dozens of sponsors, partners and supporters throughout Canada and the University of Waterloo.
  4. Completing a successful Kickstarter Campaign and raising double the goal that was set for the team.
Showing off Goose I at SpaceX Competition I (2016)
Inside shot of the pod with lights blinking and lots of wires and cool looking knobs. (2016)
Elon Musk taking a look (pretty much blessing our pod by just looking at it) at Goose I (2016)