In June of 2015, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, made an open call for design submissions for the hyperloop: the company’s proposed high-speed ground transport system. Finalists would submit their prototypes of a transportation pod for final review in just a year. Naturally, Drexel students have accepted the challenge, and they’ve done pretty well.
So well, in fact, that they are one of the 22 teams to make it to the finals in Hawthorne, California coming up this August.
The Drexel team is made up of 80 engineers and around 20 other team members that come from nearly every college within the university. The project, while sponsored by more companies and local Philly initiatives than the team can put on their T-shirts, is completely student-run.
The proposed SpaceX track will get passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 35 minutes using magnetic and electric power to reach speeds up to 750 miles per hour, which is pretty much the coolest thing that I’ve heard all year.
As an outsider to the team, I merely accepted that the project was happening and that it mattered, but it wasn’t until I passed by the team poster hanging in Bossone on the Market Street side that I realized this is something worth breaking out the blue and gold for.
I managed to catch Peter Taddeo, a mechanical engineering senior and the head of the team’s public relations, to get a feel for what the team of Drexel students does in a way that other Drexel students could relate to.
Taddeo used the word “start-up” frequently because of the professional, yet hands-on team dynamic. The design is innovative, safe, and low-cost— perfect for investors, which Drexel students are especially trained in dealing with because of co-op experience and Close School resources. Team leaders have consulted with faculty members, government officials, business administrators, and SpaceX engineers among others to perfect marketability.
Most impressive of Taddeo’s comments was that the team has over 100 combined years of professional co-op experience, which sets our team apart from the 300 other groups that participated in the first round of the competition.
Drexel students are overachieving: the team is also designing the pod in accordance with every applicable safety standard in order to maximize its marketability. They’re even throwing in a design concept for the station itself.
The project is self-sustaining, thanks to its interdisciplinary team of business, product design, and computer science students, among others— i.e., not engineers—who take care of human resources, web design, the YouTube channel, and so on.
“I don’t think this sort of interdisciplinary project has been ever been done in Drexel’s history,” Taddeo remarked. “I believe this is the first time.”
As with athletics, innovation requires teamwork and fan support, especially in a competition as awesome as this one. The team utilizes every Drexel resource at its disposal, but it takes student spirit to take the team from becoming yet another Drexel business venture to make them champions – those who we claim as our own.
The engineers on the Hyperloop teamwork 70-80 hours a week on the project. It’s easy to dismiss the team as a group of overachievers, but we cannot ignore that there are 80 Drexel engineers who are working the total of two full-time jobs on what other schools see as a side project.
Earlier this year, President Fry wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, where he boldly denounced the practice of prioritizing college athletics over academics. By the time the article had been published, the Hyperloop team had already received overwhelming support from Fry, faculty sponsors, and other Drexel higher-ups, and they hadn’t even made it to the final round yet.
We joke enough about the lack of a football team on campus, but at the end of the day, what really makes us Drexel students, engineers or not, is our determination, industry savvy and innovative spirit. That’s something worth waving a banner and painting our faces for.
Our Hyperloop team is worth rallying for, even if it seems nerdy or overblown, because the work is so revolutionary that it isn’t even a matter of winning or losing – but we should want to win. We are a school of many, many talents, and there are many competitions out that could use a Drexel team in the ring.
When I asked Taddeo what the average Drexel student could do to support the Hyperloop team, he emphasized that the best form of support is getting excited for the project, adding that “fans are everything.” The technology matters, and it’s easy for any student to get pumped that not only is their team advancing to the finals but the competition is actually something that represents the Drexel experience. Anyone can be a part of the endeavor.
Speaking of which, the team is currently looking for willing students of any major to be part of their mini “start-up.” If you’re like me and want to get involved but can’t because you’re taking 20 credits this term, then like their Facebook page and check out their recently launched YouTube page – the more social media support, the better. Better yet, buy a T-shirt and maybe donate something extra to the fund.
The team will be testing the prototype in May and unveiling the final design for the student body in June before it goes off to California, where it will be unveiled in major cities along the travel route. In the meantime, get excited.