Our story began in the afternoon of Monday, June 15, 2015. It was just like any other day until an email with SpaceX’s announcement of a Hyperloop competition was received. We got to thinking and within a week, BadgerLoop was created purely by word of mouth. 15 students worked from around the world, while on summer internships, to solidify the core of BadgerLoop.
Once returning to campus in the fall, BadgerLoop quickly gained momentum. We recruited over 100 new members at the start of the semester and organized them into sub teams eager to begin designing and prototyping our pod. Finding space to construct our 15 foot pod and Halbach arrays on such short notice was no easy task. Thanks to the University’s Physics Department, we secured a build space in Chamberlin Hall, along with a separate electrical lab in Sterling Hall.
Our structural team’s first task was to design the outside of the pod. While the Hyperloop operates in a near-vacuum, there is still significant air resistance at high speeds. Therefore, the team wanted to choose a profile that was as aerodynamic as possible. Having very little experience with computational fluid dynamics (CFD), the team had to learn as they went along. One team lead, Tucker White, recounts his experience:
At the beginning of the fall semester I joined the BadgerLoop team that focused on CFD. Since I had very little CFD experience in software like ANSYS, I didn’t think I’d be able to help out much. I was just hoping to learn a little bit more… It turned out that I had to assume much of the work of my team due to people becoming busy. Luckily for me, I found ANSYS Fluent to be very intuitive, and I was able to pick it up in a short period of time. With Fluent, I was able to produce great visuals and gather very specific data. I found it amazing that such an unusual and complicated system like the Hyperloop could be analyzed with such ease in Fluent. I think my journey from initially knowing not knowing Fluent shows what a powerful tool ANSYS Fluent can be.
The quality of the design has only increased thanks to the knowledge of our ever growing team, composed of mainly undergraduate students, and we are extremely proud of the design we have been able to put together.
Funded by the Mechanical Engineering Department, the team took three vans and made the 17.5 hour drive down to Texas A&M for Design Weekend. Here, 126 teams from 27 different states and 20 countries showcased their designs to judges, industry professionals, and general fans over the two day event. The BadgerLoop booth, featuring demos of our electrical and innovative stability system, was a huge hit! Engineers, sponsors, and the public alike loved interacting with our demonstrations of the world’s largest Halbach wheel, virtual reality glasses that simulate being inside the pod, and a livestream data-monitoring dashboard.
The BadgerLoop pod design spoke for itself, especially since each aspect of the pod was backed by robust computational analysis. We were thrilled to receive a Pod Technical Excellence Award, and place third alongside MIT and Delft University (who placed first and second, respectively). Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, made a surprise appearance during the award ceremony, along with an impromptu Q&A. Our Co-Presidents, Tieler Callazo and Brett Sjostrom, were invited to a backstage chat with Musk after the session (he signed our trophy too)!
We had no idea the amount of interest our new organization would create on the UW-Madison campus, or the immense engineering talent it would attract. Our team has seized this excellent opportunity and we’ve welcomed the rapid growth. Creating a large student organization in parallel with designing a novel system for the competition has been no easy task. Essentially, BadgerLoop has been running similarly to a fast paced startup with several attributes of a large non-profit organization. Adopting this model and entrepreneurial mentality has helped us coordinate the efforts of each and every team member.
Now, at the start of fabrication, we are recruiting more talented and passionate students to help us build the pod. Additionally, we formed a business team to handle non-technical functions of the team. Our success is driven by our inter-disciplinary cooperation, and Design Weekend attracted members from nearly every department on campus.
We’ve got some tough competition and lots of work ahead, but we are beyond excited to start turning our design into a reality. Our next milestone is building a physical prototype. This summer we will get the chance to compete on a scaled test track built by SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. We are excited to face off with premier design teams from around the globe. That being said, the atmosphere of Hyperloop is more cooperative than competitive. Many teams will be partnering in the near future, and we all hope to catalyze the progress of this revolutionary transportation technology.
Break a Pod and On Wisconsin!