Overcoming obstacles with an electric hovercraft

Through commitment plus readiness to face challenges both expected and unforeseen, an MIT team recently introduced the air-powered hovercraft from world of Saturday-morning cartoons to truth, in the 2019 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competitors.

But that is only area of the tale.

What’s past is prologue

Within a 2013 white report, Elon Musk, technology business owner, trader, and engineer, detailed a high-speed frictionless train — the Hyperloop. When drag and atmosphere were taken out of a tunnel, he posited, trains could float inside a vacuum tube at as much as 700 miles per hour.

Musk wasn’t the first ever to imagine an air-powered train. In the 1860s, Alfred Ely seashore, creator, writer, and patent lawyer, envisioned a subway under the streets of brand new York City. In 1870, their experiments in pneumatic power triggered a demonstration run of the seashore Pneumatic Transit, a 10-passenger car propelled by way of a 100-horsepower fan, baffles, and blowers, by way of a tunnel beneath Broadway. His attempts had been thwarted by Tammany Hall politics in addition to Panic of 1873.

It took the MIT team, dubbed Hyperloop II, to yet again embrace Beach’s idea. “We took Beach’s eyesight and accomplished a more efficient pneumatic automobile,” explains Vik Parthiban, staff captain.

Lofty targets

Parthiban, a graduate researcher on MIT Media Lab, had been an element of the 2017 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competitors during his undergraduate many years on University of Tx. He came to MIT determined to help technology and, inside fall of 2018, recruited almost 30 undergraduate and graduate students to build up an independent electric hovercraft.

“Imagine an atmosphere hockey puck,” explains Parthiban. “Instead of air appearing out of a dining table, it comes down regarding pucks under the automobile. A regulation system pumps atmosphere into these air castors, which then levitate the automobile.” Four castors under the automobile are managed by way of a pneumatic system managed with a central computer. The propulsion system takes the 200-kilogram vehicle from zero to 200 kilometers hourly in 20 moments with the push of a hand.

High-speed traveler trains in Asia and Japan use magnetic levitation to make a space amongst the train plus the track to remove the drag, but Parthiban took an unusual strategy. “Putting magnetized levitation inside a hyperloop is costly,” he states. “Our goal was to create a unique technology that will cost less and become more cost-effective than magnetized levitation, and also to develop an electrical hovercraft that will work even without having a cleaner tunnel. The One And Only Thing required is a flat working surface.”

The procedure

With help from Edgerton Center and industry sponsors including Arrow Electronics, Silicon Professional, and Texas Guadaloop, the team joined up with forces to add specific abilities. “We worked collectively to find out the simplest way to integrate the elements. Every person brought their particular knowledge,” states Nick Dowmon, pc software manufacturing lead plus System Design and Management (SDM) graduate pupil. “It ended up being an incredible discovering opportunity as well as a chance to collaborate and study on both.”

Throughout the cold temperatures, the group found into the Edgerton Center’s build room to produce a device no-one had previously built before. They brainstormed, created, and redesigned. They machined parts, outsourcing the more complex components. They worked because of the University of Tx on pneumatics and conducted analyses to determine the style of sensors necessary to levitate and propel the pod within required rate, adjusting right here, fine-tuning here. They fashioned the 70-component wiring use and constructed a test track in a 200-foot-long corridor beneath MIT’s Great Dome.

On May 22, the finished pod had been provided in the MIT Museum to an overflow crowd wanting to see the world’s very first electric hovercraft.

A small setback

During the early summer, the production schedule ended up being on target. Team members were confident the pod would meet its distribution due date and reach Ca by July 7. On Summer 18, Parthiban and two teammates bent throughout the pod in the create room, intent upon working-out last-minute details.

After that Parthiban saw flames. A tear within the electric battery insulation had triggered a quick, and then he reached for a fire-extinguisher. However the blaze quickly escalated, he recalls, and he reached for the fire security instead.

“The battery insulation fire burned down all of the car,” he claims. “It ended up being the saddest thing.”

Parthiban named an disaster group meeting that evening, and within a couple of hours, every group member had arrived — including those who’d left the project to spotlight study and internships. Parthiban explained that rebuilding the pod in three days had been virtually impossible.

In real MIT style, every team user came collectively inside a resounding “Let’s try this!”

“Everyone agreed we had to really make it occur,” states Bowen Zeng, levitation lead plus graduate student in mechanical engineering. “There was no choice.”

“We had to drop everything to reconstruct the pod before we visited California,” claims Dowmon. “Many times, I was however into the create area at nighttime with somebody that I didn’t generally make use of toiling for a the main pod, but we helped one another. We worked through it collectively.”

3 days following the conference, the pneumatic panel was rebuilt. Within a few days, the brand new chassis was finished. The digital systems were recreated. Sponsors fast-tracked the delivery of replacement components. Plus few days ahead of the delivery deadline, the pod had been completed (once again).

“I don’t think I’ve ever before worked with a group that has been therefore dedicated, so capable keep on seeking some thing therefore discouraging,” adds Jessica Harsono, braking team lead and graduate student in mechanical engineering.

MIT’s entry was the only real fully-functioning levitating pod within the competition at SpaceX head office in July. “Competition week was truly where our collaboration paid,” says Parthiban. “With just a few men and women in Ca, we’d to divide the jobs and acquire components and perform some machining within a quick amount of time, under due date. But we caused it to be.”

The MIT team surfaced as the # 1 U.S. college during the yearly competition and placed fifth internationally. Additionally they obtained a SpaceX Innovation prize.

Only at MIT

Beach set the groundwork and Musk provided the chance, but in the end, it had been the nature of camaraderie and teamwork that made the MIT team’s hyperloop a real possibility.

“My motivation had beenn’t that i needed to do this for myself,” states Harsono. “So other individuals worked so very hard, and I performedn’t wish allow them to down. I was inspired out of respect for what they’d done and exactly how much work and care they put in.”

“This only sometimes happens at MIT,” Parthiban says. “We all have that exact same mindset, the exact same hard-work mindset.”