A group of students based in Bengaluru have a dream — to pioneer high-speed transport in India. To realise this dream and to bring Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s vision to life, these students have formed a group called Hyperloop India.
Hyperloop India is one of 24 teams across the world that have made it to the finals of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, which will be held in California from August 25 to 27, 2017. It’s the only team from India for this contest. The team has been hard at work for the last 18 months, trying to build a Hyperloop pod — a complex and expensive process. The Hyperloop concept envisions an automated pod travelling at ultra-high speeds in a vacuum track, and the teams are competing to test their pods on a mile-long track in California.
Hyperloop India's pod is called the OrcaPod and it’s named after the orca whale. When completed, the pod will weigh around 300kg and will be 4 metres long — a fourth of the size of a full-size Hyperloop pod.
“The biggest challenge is that you can’t just Google how to build a Hyperloop pod,” Prithvi Sankar, business development lead at Hyperloop India, tells Gadgets 360. “We had to start from scratch. From there we have made significant progress but I would say we are about 30 percent into the build.”
That may not seem like much, but the groundwork is done and the team is working towards finishing the pod. Sankar says most of the components are with the team in Bengaluru and some are in transit. He’s optimistic about the project being ready on time.
Hyperloop India says the total cost of building a pod is between Rs. 80 lakhs to Rs. 1 crore. Sankar says this covers the cost for building the pod, its manufacturing and machining, the cost to ship the pod to California and back for the competition, apart from the expenses related team’s visit to California, so the actual pods would be a little cheaper.
The team has raised Rs. 40 lakhs via corporate sponsorships and has set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise another Rs. 30 lakhs. The campaign had raised over Rs. 4.5 lakhs via crowdfunding at the time of writing, with 18 days to go. That still leaves a shortfall of a significant amount, but Sankar says Hyperloop India has managed to save on a lot of costs thanks to certain partnerships.
“Initially it was a lot of cold calling and trying to explain our projects to people,” Sankar says. Over time, the company managed to land a few good deals. “Workbench Projects, a makerspace and fabrication lab, allowed us to work in their premises and use their machines and they didn’t charge us,” he adds. A number of other companies agreed to support this group of students, so they managed to source several important components at no cost.
The competition, Sankar says, isn’t like a conventional cutthroat contest. “Though the criteria says fastest pod wins, ultimately the technology is in its nascent stage. The fact that you can get a pod to levitate and travel on the 1-mile test track acts as a proof of concept,” he says.
There are many challenges ahead of the team. The first of these is that after building the Hyperloop pod, the team won’t be able to fully test it in India. “We’ll be able to test things like levitation and braking over a six-metre distance. We don’t have the infrastructure here to run a full test,” he says. Considering that you need a large 99 percent vacuum test track to test the pod, it’s easy to see why Hyperloop India won’t be able to get much testing done before the contest.
While Hyperloop One, one of Hyperloop India’s sponsors, is bullish about the technology, the fact is that this technology is far from viable.