A bunch of brainy students at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (Einstein was a student there) designed a prototype of a passenger pod that might one day carry commuters through a vacuum tube in magnetically levitating cars at more than 1,000 km/h. At this speed a trip between Zürich and Geneva could take 15 minutes.
They call it Swissloop, Switzerland’s entry in a global competition organized by Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX, part of a plan to get young minds behind a project to develop aircraft-speed (1,080 km per hour) long-distance ground transportation using his hyperloop principles.
The bigger project, dubbed Virgin Hyperloop One, is throwing big money (US$ 295 million) at turning Musk’s dream into reality. The idea is to create maximum speed with minimal energy by sucking most of the air from a tube and using clever electrical motors to power the pods and magnets to reduce friction. The Virgin Hyperloop One team has set a target date of 2021 for an operational system.
This past summer, a Swiss team of student physicists, mathematicians and engineers presented their Swissloop pod design in Hawthorne, outside Los Angeles, at the international competition. The Swiss team was one of three teams left after whittling the field down from more than 1,000 entries.
Alas, in the competition the Swiss team came in third. They had a temporary problem with remote connectivity which caused Musk, who was looking over their shoulder, to ask, “You don’t just lose connectivity – how do we get it back?”
In December 2017, a prototype Virgin Hyperloop One pod reached a speed of 387 km/h, not much faster than the WARR pod designed by the winning student team at Germany’s Technical University of Munich, which reached a speed of 324 km/h.
Swissloop only managed 40 km/h, according to reports by the WARR team. But don’t feel too sorry for the Swissloop team. Among these young scientists, mathematicians and engineers might be the Elon (or Alison) Musks of tomorrow, quickly sipping their lattes on a 15-minute ride from Zurich to Geneva.