After placing third at Texas A&M University’s Design Weekend in January, University of Wisconsin’s BadgerLoop team hopes to take their HyperLoop pod design off the ground — literally.

BadgerLoop is a student organization composed predominantly of UW engineering students taking part in SpaceX’s official HyperLoop Pod Competition. The group is working to improve their pod design to be sent down a low pressured, carbon steel tube, the proposed next high-speed transportation system — otherwise known as a HyperLoop.

David Van Veen, BadgerLoop’s business operations director, said the concept of HyperLoop transportation is similar to the low pressure tubes banks use to transmit money between you and the bank teller.

This idea of the HyperLoop was proposed in 2013 by South African entrepreneur Elon Musk. Musk proposed the vacuum-like, low pressure tube of the HyperLoop may have the potential to send pods from San Francisco to Los Angeles at more than 600 miles per hour, cutting down a five-and-a-half hour commute to just 35 minutes, Van Veen said.

Brett Sjostrom, BadgerLoop co-president, immediately took the initiative and started pulling together the team shortly after SpaceX announced the HyperLoop Pod Competition last June.

“You don’t get a chance very often to work on something that’s so innovative,” Sjostrom said. “You know the basics of how to build a car, nobody knows how to build a HyperLoop pod … nobody’s ever done anything like this before. You get to kind of build your own path.” 

The BadgerLoop team has worked for the last seven months to design their version of Musk’s “fifth mode of transportation.” After their success in Texas, the team will advance to build and test their pod against 30 other HyperLoop teams in SpaceX’s competition in Hawthorne, California this summer.

BadgerLoop plans to develop a magnetically levitating pod, where no part of the pod will be in contact with the tube. The system providing levitation, called a Halbach array, is a specific orientation of multiple permanent magnets to dictate electromagnetic forces in a desired direction. In addition to using this system for levitation, BadgerLoop has also applied the same concept to build Halbach wheels— wheels rimmed with magnets — that use magnets to provide the pod with forward propulsion along the aluminum track. The lift force of magnets will create the desired levitating effect and ensure the pod will maintain velocity throughout the test run.

Courtesy of BadgerLoop

These wheels help to account for the drag forces generated by the eddy currents. An eddy current is a localized electric current induced in a conductor by a varying magnetic field, Van Veen said.

Van Veen said most other teams that were at Design Weekend in Texas did not take those drag forces into account in their designs, giving their team a leg up.

But the UW team had more than a good design going for it.

“Another thing that really set us apart at Design Weekend was our branding,” Van Veen said. “Things like our polos, logos, that promotional video that really captured people’s attention.”

BadgerLoop hopes to use the momentum they’ve gained to finalize and build a working design in time to be the first team to send a HyperLoop pod down the competition track. But the team’s assigned SpaceX advisor must first give the green light for their design.

Van Veen and Sjostrom expect raw materials and testing for the prototype pod to run the team $40,000, and they are currently coordinating the necessary sponsorship.

Last semester, BadgerLoop was comprised of about 75 students. Moving forward, however, the team hopes to recruit even more engineers and build out a business team of 15 to 20 students on top of that.

BadgerLoop is also working on getting more faculty advisors involved because of their growing teams. Each team and subteam, from levitation to electrical, to structure, to safety, to breaking, software and controls, is going to need deeper advice and expertise in each area, Van Veen said.

“The coolest part is knowing that all of our hard work is paying off,” Sjostrom said. We have a passionate team, dedicated people that aren’t afraid to work on this. And it’s exciting to know that people back in the college of engineering and the entire University of Wisconsin are supporting us.”