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UC Santa Barbara Students Named Finalists in SpaceX Hyperloop Competition

20 engineering undergraduates design a pod to operate on high-speed track between Los Angeles and San Francisco

The UC Santa Barbara Hyperloop team is designing a pod that would quickly travel via a tube. The team is one of 22 finalists out of an initial field of 1,200. Click to view larger
The UC Santa Barbara Hyperloop team is designing a pod that would quickly travel via a tube. The team is one of 22 finalists out of an initial field of 1,200. (Lucas Dewey rendering)

A group of soon-to-graduate UC Santa Barbara engineering students is working on the senior project of a lifetime, one that involves designing a high-speed vehicle for SpaceX.

The company known for designing, manufacturing and launching its own rockets and spacecraft has created a competition specifically for university students and independent engineering teams.


Essentially, the teams are designing a pod-like vehicle to be an integral part of the Hyperloop, a high-speed ground transport concept that would allow Hyperloop passengers to travel to San Francisco from Los Angeles in under 30 minutes. SpaceX and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk first proposed the idea in 2013.

A team of 20 engineering students and advisers formed UCSB Hyperloop to work on the project, and their design was deemed sound enough last month to move onto the finals in June.

At that time, the local team will have built a full-scale version of its pod design — one involving electromagnetic levitation — to test on SpaceX’s one-mile test track adjacent to its Hawthorne headquarters.

“It drew a huge amount of interest,” UCSB mechanical engineering professor and team adviser Tyler Susko said of the competition, which had 1,200 initial teams vying from around the world for the prize.

The field was narrowed to 22 finalists during a design weekend at Texas A&M University, where student and other teams presented their pod designs to be judged for innovation, system applicability, level of design detail and more.

“They chose this as their senior project,” Susko said of the UCSB students. “I’m super proud of them because they did a really great job and put in a lot of work. Now they’re trying to raise more money.”

The winner doesn’t get a prize, per se, just bragging rights and the ability to network with engineers already in the field.

Trevor Fritz, the team captain from Glendale who will graduate in June, already has a job lined up with SpaceX out at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

He said students have worked countless hours on the project preparing presentations and the necessary paperwork to check the pod design. Now they need to come up with a brake mechanism — the pod will be pushed by a SpaceX-made technology that travels up to 200 mph — and make sure a person could ride in it.

“I guess it really paid off,” Fritz said. “We’re engineers; we like to work with numbers. It’s pretty fun to have a bunch of nerdy minds to bounce off each other. The spirit of the competition is to collaborate.”

UCSB Hyperloop team members include Mary Alice Callaghan, Juan Castillo, Elena Georgieva, Christopher Johnson and Terrence Tran on the electrical engineering side.

Celeste Bean, Connor Buckland, Benjamin Hartl, Cameron McCarthy and Connor Mulcahey are in the computer engineering group, and mechanical engineers-in-training included Fritz, Kyle Collett, Sarah Conley, Lucas Dewey, Dasun Hemachandra, ​Viraj Khatri, Annie Kim, Kristine Lai, Nathan Ransom and Daniel Vong.

The team is currently halfway to its goal of raising $40,000 to make the pod. Ingersoll Rand, Raytheon and private donors have shouldered sponsorship so far, but anyone looking to donate can email Fritz at [email protected].

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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