This week, Davis’s Hyperloop team Oneloop had it’s preliminary design review! This means that all the subteams got together to discuss where they are at in the design proccess, what we have accomplished this year, what didn’t work, and our next steps. I honestly think the team did very well!
So unfortunately, it is still extremely unlikely that there will be a Hyperloop competition this summer. Elon has not specified the date of the event, and there just won’t be time to set up the whole event to be ready in July with this short notice. In addition, last year he promised that the tube we will be racing through will be 10km long and have a curve, which will take quite a while for the Boring Company to build. Due to this lack of information by Elon, several teams spammed him with tweets, and he eventually responded! I guess tweets are how people communicate with important folks these days?
So the competition will happen, just not necessarily soon. This might actually be a good things since it will give our team much more time to conduct research. This has been a bummer for those who joined up to physically work with their hands, but it’s been fun for those like me who enjoy the research aspect! One of the coolest things about hyperloop is that we are actually creating new tech. Unlike many other university competitions, we are having to conduct research into new forms of engineering that don’t already exist. When most people think of research, they imagine pure scientific research where people learn about things that we didn’t even know existed. Engineering research is a bit different. It involves taking things we already knew about, and combining them in ways that they haven’t been combined before.
The engineers working on our pod’s breaking system ran into some interesting issues. We will be going so fast at this point that if we used conventional breaking on our pod, the break system would melt due to the heat generated by friction. One solution to this issue is using electromagnetic breaks. Conventional breaks stop the vehicle by rubbing up against the object and creating friction, which can wear away at both the breaks, and the thing they are rubbing against. If the vehicle has enough momentum, the breaks could break or melt. Electromagnetic brakes work using magnetic eddies. If you take a braking magnet and move it back and forth while holding it above a metal surface, you will feel a very strong friction. It’s not just that the magnet is pulling itself close to the metal, it’s that it is making it hard to move it along the metal, as if they were touching and exerting friction on each other. The plan is for several of these powerful magnets to be attached to a piston, which moves close to I-beam which SpaceX will put in the center of the tube. This breaking system uses friction, but since the magnets aren’t actually touching anything, they won’t melt or break. I actually got to hold one of these brakes near the pod’s metallic chassis and felt the friction! It was really neat. Unfortunately electromagnetic breaking is a fledgling field, and most of the knowledge regarding it is inaccessible due to patents and nondisclosure agreements, so our team has had to figure out what to do on its own! This is extremely difficult, especially seeing as no professors at Davis are currently conducting research in this area. This problem is furthered by the fact that the majority of skilled mechanical engineers typically prefer to work with propulsion because brakes are very niche. I personally find the breaking system one of the most interesting aspects of our pod, but I’m a computer engineer so I wouldn’t be much help on the team. Also, I’m already the president and really don’t have time for any more work. Unfortunately this lack of interest is resulting in a shortage of engineers on our brakes team! To make things even more difficult, these magnets are very dangerous to keep around! They are so strong that if you hold them next to metal and let go, they can sometimes snap in half when they hit it! When that happens, they form very sharp edges and can slice off fingers if they are pulled out of your hand. I saw a magnet break once, and it actually created sparks!
Our propulsion system is using a linear induction motors, which is another technology whose design is not particularly well explored. This is because they are usually used on roller coasters and high speed trains, neither of which are particularly large industries. Since we are using a track, we decided that a LIM would be the best way to propel our pod, as did the vast majority of the HyperLoop teams. A LIM is different from most motors because they create motion in a straight line — you can think of it as a rotary motor that has been unrolled. Most of the research regarding linear induction motors comes from trains, which comes from mine carts, which comes from wagons, so it’s really old. Some of our propulsion teams have been reading up on how LIMs work from a book called theory of linear induction motors by Sakae Yamamura, which is some of the most cutting edge research available, but it still very general — the math that governs the workings of our specific pod has not been created yet. This is why the propulsion team spent all of last quarter and half of this quarter working on an integral to represent the motor curve! The motor curve shows how much torque the motor creates at different velocities. That integral is far beyond me as a computer engineer, but thankfully I’ve got an awesome team of mechanical and aerospace engineers who actually understand this!
Our fantastic chief engineer has come up with the idea of publishing our research in a journal, which we will probably end up doing. I’m not going to end up with my name on the paper because I wasn’t involved in the research, but it’s still pretty fun to be a part of this project! And hopefully I’ll end up with my name on some paper this year with my research, which will be cool even though its not HyperLoop related.
In non-HyperLoop related news, I have discovered something very interesting about my favorite Python IDE, PyCharm. As I mentioned in earlier posts, an IDE is an application that you write your code in. This IDE in particular doesn’t support pwntools! For those of you who didn’t read my last post, pwntools is a Python library, which is essentially a collection of commands that aren’t typically needed in Python. As a result, you have to download the commands from a third-party site, and import them. Pwntools is specifically for hacking. My hacking professor is teaching us to use pwntools, and since pwntools is a Python library, I tried to write the code in PyCharm, and it kept breaking! At first I figured that I was doing something wrong, but it turns out that pwntools is a weird library that breaks certain IDEs! I didn’t even know that was possible! So now I’m coding in Vim, which is fine but not great.
Anyways, thank you all for reading! You are all awesome people and I don’t know why you want to read about a crazy 19 year old’s bizarre adventures, but I’m certainly glad you do! In non-work related news, I recently biked over a train track that reminded me of the text-based adventure game Anchorhead, although you can’t really see it in the picture. Also what is up with the dining hall Latitude? It’s like they decided to take the regular student food areas, which already pretty good, and replace them with serious restaurants. Haven’t been, but want to go!
May you be ever victorious in your endeavors!