Students from the Product Design – BA (Hons) programme at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) have been invited to Texas A&M University in Austin for a Design Weekend to develop their proposals for the worldwide Hyperloop competition. The ECA students will join students from the School of Engineering on the trip, who make up the rest of the University of Edinburgh design team - HYPED.

Their invitation to Texas means they have made it through the first stage of the competition. It is an opportunity to receive feedback from professionals and academics, pitch ideas to sponsors, and connect with other young innovators from around the world.

The project asks student teams to propose a design for a “pod” that would act as the space for passengers to sit in a new, high-speed, sustainable mode of transport called the Hyperloop. The product design part of the team is made up of seven students across first, second and third year of study.

Qualifying teams will be invited to test their designs for real in SpaceX’s California headquarters in the summer of 2016. Over 300 teams submitted their designs for the competition, and 124 have been invited to the weekend in Texas. HYPED are one of two teams from the UK who have been selected, and one of 11 from Europe.

The Hyperloop concept is a tube that links up two cities less than about 900 miles apart - far enough apart to warrant train travel, but not far enough away to really justify travelling by plane. It was borne out of a white paper proposal from Elon Musk – CEO & CTO of SpaceX and CEO & product architect of Tesla Motors. The inventor and engineer made the proposal following what he described as a disappointment at the approval of the California high speed rail network. "How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL – doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars – would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?" he said in his report.

A trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles is the example in Musk’s paper, though the University of Edinburgh student group (HYPED) are using London to Edinburgh as their chosen journey to investigate. The HYPED team is broken up into five sub-teams – aerodynamics, safety, levitation, electronics, and product design. The time they estimate the journey between the two capitals would take in the Hyperloop is around 40 minutes.

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“It is a train in a near-vacuum tube, which minimises drag force, and that levitates, which minimises resistance. Because of that, the train can go very fast – as fast as aeroplanes do,” said Adam Kijowski (Mechanical Engineering with Management - MEng [Hons]) who is leading the HYPED team, “It has the additional advantage of going from city centre to city centre, which makes it a competition for air travel for short distances.”

The pod would be levitating by about 1mm. “We considered using magnetic levitation, which is used already in, for example, the Shanghai Maglev Train, which goes as fast as 400 miles per hour,” said Adam, “But we decided to use air bearings, which is high-pressure air that lifts the pod. We can take some of the air out from in front of the pod, which minimises the drag.”

The Product Design students have been tasked with designing the user-experience as part of the HYPED team. Everything from how a passenger would enter the pod to how the interior of it will look and feel needs to be considered, all the while working with Engineering students to fit their ideas into the overall design of a fully-functioning pod.

“The engineering side of it isn’t the only problem with designing this high-speed travel. The main function of it, once you get past how it works, is to actually transport people comfortably from one city to the next.” said Joe Revans, Product Design – BA (Hons) who is leading the Product Design team, “It needs to be able to rival air travel.”

“The engineering team might present us with some constraints, and then we’ll say, ‘Actually, the passenger section needs to have this height of roof - what can the aerodynamics team do?’” he said, “So there’s this fluidity that comes from teams setting each other boundaries, and then working within them.”

“At first it was a lot of research – for example, how hot it needs to be inside. The ideal temperature for an internal space in LA is totally different to what it would be in Edinburgh,” said Joe, “We’ve raised lots of ideas about designing chairs that are suitable for high-speed travel, and about form and experience – the space is going to be very claustrophobic, and we need to consider how we can make the environment more comfortable.”