Hyperloop and the Educational Value of Enthusiasm

Right now, hundreds, if not thousands, of engineering students are being inspired by real-world, hands-on engineering challenges that will reshape our world. Hyperloop is one of the most prominent examples. In August, SpaceX continues its series of Hyperloop Pod Competition weekends, where student teams bring self-built pods to be tested on a track nearly 1 mile long, just under 6 feet in diameter, and with a vacuum under 1% of atmospheric pressure.

The competition motivates students to learn more electrical, mechanical, aerospace, and systems engineering as they create new technology. And they practice incredibly important skills such as leadership and teamwork. At the Hyperloop Advanced Research Partnership (HARP, HyperloopPartnership.org) we’ve talked with many of these teams and found they have among the brightest, most hard-working, dedicated, and collaborative students.

In my past career developing and using cutting-edge atmospheric measurement instruments, I saw and wrote about the concrete benefits of hands-on learning – in that situation it was bringing high-tech tools to atmospheric science students and developing the next generation of observational researchers. In science, progress is an interplay of observational experiments, theoretical advances, and numerical modeling. The same is true in engineering – and learning is spurred by having an exciting application and the tools to create.

Developing Hyperloop pod technology is just the right mix – an inspiring problem to solve, and leveraging new learning in magnetic levitation, material science, software control algorithms, aerodynamic simulation, and human factors. Elon Musk captured this recently, saying that “trying to solve a problem is very powerful for establishing relevance, and getting kids excited about what they’re working on and having the knowledge stick.” Most teams are extracurricular, but we know of a couple of for-credit courses based around Hyperloop pod engineering.

And these teams go well beyond engineering. They include students studying physics, marketing, public outreach, logistics, business strategy, materials science, journalism, architecture, project management, and more.

A common theme for university-based pod teams is active fund-raising. Each team raises tens of thousands of dollars for materials, components, construction costs, and to fund their travel to the competition.

This is not a roadblock but rather an opportunity. Marketing and fundraising team leads have captured local, national, and international sponsors. Together the pod teams have raised over a million dollars. And remember, this began with one simple challenge.

All this activity raises positive awareness and understanding of the Hyperloop concept, its potential, and its technological readiness. This is incredibly valuable – a necessary step for the future of transportation.

Very exciting also is that students are connecting directly with the companies developing commercial Hyperloop products. If you check out their LinkedIn pages, some are now interns or employees with companies like Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and even SpaceX.

The HARP website knowledge base includes a list of many Pod Team websites. We encourage you to support and encourage these amazing innovators!

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