Student Group, Berkeley Hyperloop, Wins Spot to Test at SpaceX

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

SpaceX, a company that designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft, recently launched an open competition, geared towards university students and independent engineering teams, to design and build the best Hyperloop pod. The Berkeley Hyperloop team spent the last semester designing a Hyperloop pod to enter into the competition, engineered around safety and reliability.


This past weekend, team members represented Berkeley at the Hyperloop Design Weekend, where they secured a spot in the top 22 technical teams. Earning this honor gives the team the go-ahead to build their prototype Hyperloop pod, as well as the opportunity to test it on SpaceX’s track later this year. The team now has a busy semester ahead of them, as they up their fundraising efforts and work to build an 80% scale pod before this summer's Hyperloop Pod Competition.


Berkeley Hyperloop is actively searching for supporters, sponsors and mentors in this venture. If you are interested in getting involved with, or supporting Berkeley Hyperloop, please contact them at




The following article was originally published in December 2015 in the ME Alumni Newsletter, and written by Megan McClarty, a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering specializing in Advanced Energy Systems.


Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 Minutes!


The future is fast. And it will be here sooner than you think.


In 2013, visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk (Tesla Motors, SpaceX) proposed a radical new form of transportation he called the Hyperloop concept. This ultra-high-speed mass transit system would whisk people from Los Angeles to San Francisco (a distance of nearly 400 miles) in just over half an hour.  Musk wasn’t intending on developing the Hyperloop concept himself. Instead, he promoted the project as open-source, encouraging the technically-inspired public to guide the vision into reality. In 2015, Musk upped the stakes: his aerospace company, SpaceX, launched a competition to find the most promising design for a Hyperloop pod.  Over 318 academic and industrial teams across the country have signed up for the competition. The Berkeley Hyperloop Group is one of those teams and is committed to developing the most sophisticated technical design while also accounting for a number of oft-neglected non-technical metrics.


What exactly is the Hyperloop? In simple terms, it’s envisioned as a large-scale vacuum system which will accelerate encapsulated pods through an elevated, low-pressure tube, reaching speeds in excess of 700 mph. The implications of this design on commuting and general travel are impressive, shaving hours off ground travel and saving significant costs when compared with air travel. Furthermore, the pods will run on air tracks driven by induction motors and powered by arrays of solar panels lining the outer walls of the tube, making the technology not only convenient and fast, but also completely environmentally sustainable. This is a goal well in line with those of Musk’s other successful ventures, electric car maker Tesla Motors and solar-power provider SolarCity. The technology has been lauded as being exceptionally safe – like a rail system, the pods will run independently in the North-South direction, making the possibility of a collision practically non-existent. The pylons that support the tube will be earthquake resistant and designed to withstand volatile weather conditions.


So, with hundreds of undoubtedly talented and industrious groups working on this problem around the country – what does the group at Berkeley offer to set themselves apart? First off, a strong team of both undergraduate and graduate students, not only from Mechanical Engineering, but from across 12 other departments as well – Materials Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Finance, Law and Economics to name a few. The team is led by a group of accomplished advisors from different engineering focuses. Postdoctoral researcher David Rich has worked in fire safety in both academia and the aerospace industry; Professor Tony

Keaveny (ME) is an accomplished researcher in biomechanics and crash simulation research; Professor Claire Tomlin (EECS) provides expertise in the area of Systems and Controls; and Professor Dennis Lieu (ME) focuses on dynamics, acceleration and safety considerations. This interdisciplinary approach helps to draw on knowledge from a wide range of backgrounds and allows the team to develop more nuanced designs. Berkeley Hyperloop has groups working on important safety considerations like fire- proofing and emergency depressurization evacuation procedures as well as the typical acceleration, braking and controls systems.


The team has recently submitted a preliminary design briefing to the competition. The PDB outlines the design and technical details of Berkeley Hyperloop’s proposed 50-ft pod, and will be judged by technical leads at SpaceX. If accepted and advanced, the team will then have the opportunity to attend a design weekend in Texas in January, along with the other competing teams on the Hyperloop project. This intensive weekend will give Berkeley Hyperloop the chance to have their design proposals vetted, critiqued and improved by engineers and technicians from SpaceX and Tesla Motors, and will also incorporate the selection of teams for the final competition. The final evaluation will take place in June 2016: completed pod prototypes will be tested on an 80% scale tube outside of the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. 


It’s a long road to the final competition, and the pressure to produce a unique design is high. The design must address many different features: not only aerodynamics, efficiency, reliability, but also safety and comfort. It will, in the end, be a public transport system, and these considerations are paramount. In addition to a special focus on safety and reliability, the Berkeley Hyperloop team has anticipated the non-technical demands of the project, and has also formed Finance, Logistics and Marketing teams in addition to the Engineering team. With such a new technology, estimating costs for both prototyping and scale-up can be a challenge, but is a critical step in determining the viability of any proposed model. Construction on the prototype pod is almost ready to begin, and the next big hurdle is securing the funding needed for materials and manufacturing, as well as transport of the pod to the final competition. The marketing team is working to not only source and secure funding for the project, but also to bring public awareness to the concept of Hyperloop and its potential benefits. The inclusion of the non- technical groups helps to mirror the real concerns that will be critical in a true Hyperloop initiative, addressing safety, sustainability, and social awareness along with technical advancement. The Berkeley Hyperloop team is on the fast track to make a real change in California’s rapid-transit sector.