L.A. to San Francisco in an hour? UCI's team wants to win Space X's Hyperloop Pod contest

Find a way to get more than 800 people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about an hour.

That's the goal for members of the HyperXite team at UC Irvine as they finalize their designs for a pod that would speed through a tube at more than 700 mph, levitated by compressed air.

The team is entered in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition planned to be completed this summer.

Hyperloop, a concept for a high-speed ground transport system, was introduced by entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2013. Musk, 44, is the founder of Tesla Motors and rocket and spacecraft design company SpaceX.

The idea is to come up with a long-distance mode of transportation that is faster, safer, less expensive, more immune to weather and more sustainable and self-powering than planes, cars or trains.

The competition aims to speed up the development of a prototype.

SpaceX announced the opening of the contest in June, inviting university students and independent engineering teams to build functional, scale-model Hyperloop pods and launch them down a 1-mile track this year near SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne.

All teams that applied were expected to submit by November a preliminary design briefing and a PowerPoint slide deck describing the mechanisms of their pods. About 360 submissions were sent, and about 120 were chosen to move on, said Anthony Cirillo, the UCI team's project operations manager.

Those teams, representing 20 countries, will present their designs during the competition's Design Weekend on Jan. 29 and 30 at Texas A&M University.

Students Patricio Guerrero, Juliana Andrews, Jacob Gantz and Cirillo heard of the opportunity from a professor of theirs in UCI's Henry Samueli School of Engineering.

The four quickly scrapped their original idea of having an intimate team of six and gathered about 20 members for the project in two months. A graduate student and nine professors in the School of Engineering act as their advisors.

"We realized this was a big project and we needed a lot of big minds," Cirillo said. "We [the student members] come up with the ideas and our advisors make sure they can become realistic."

The students named their pod the HyperXite and divvied up responsibilities for the project's features, such as power, piping, breaks, suspension and structure. They plan for their scale model to be 14 feet long.

If they're a winner in the competition, their goal would be to build a 64-foot-long pod that could carry 28 people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in around 30 minutes. If multiple pods were to leave a docking station every two minutes, a total of 840 passengers could cover the distance in an hour, the team said.

"What we would build for the competition would be a proof of concept," Cirillo said. "But we're also working on design briefs that explain how this would work if we were to build the larger model."

At Design Weekend, all the teams will get a chance to show their pods to sponsors and big donors, said UCI team member Jonathan Gieg, a business information management student.

"We're basically showcasing everything we've done up until now and, hopefully, get the support we need for the project," he said.

The team estimates the cost to build and experiment with the HyperXite will be $60,000. With the sponsorships gathered so far, it has about $12,000.

Teams' pods will be judged in four categories — final design and construction, safety and reliability, performance in operations and performance in flight.

The judging panel will include university professors and engineers from SpaceX and Tesla.

"We want to win, but, as a broader objective, we want to revolutionize the way transportation works," Gieg said. "We can take planes, trains and cars to travel, but all those options take hours to complete the trip and they're becoming more and more expensive."

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