Éirloop on fast track to success ahead of SpaceX Hyperloop battle

11 Jul 2018

Nina Kanti, Éirloop’s lead software architect. Image: Nina Kanti

It is just a matter of days before Ireland’s Hyperloop heroes head to the SpaceX track with the aim of firing their pod design down a test tunnel at a blistering speed.

While Ireland has had to watch the World Cup from afar this summer, we can still cheer on an Irish team trying to make an impression on the world stage at the annual SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition set to take place on 22 July.

Earlier this year, we shone a spotlight on two members of team Éirloop, currently the first and only team from this island to make the finals of the competition based on the grounds of SpaceX in California.

At the time, it was an ambitious group of young engineers and academics hoping to build a pod that could travel at high speed down a 1km test track, thereby contributing to the development of the Hyperloop concept that aims to change the world of transport forever.

For those unfamiliar, the concept was put forward by SpaceX founder Elon Musk a number of years ago as a means of creating a network of near-vacuum tubes with a magnetic track running through it.

The idea would be to then insert a train and carriages into the tube that could then essentially ‘levitate’, with the resulting lack of friction allowing the train to barrel through the pipe at incredible speeds, reducing travel times across continents from days to hours.

It’s an engineering challenge like no other, which is what seems to have been the biggest draw for most of the Éirloop team. The team includes nearly 50 members from Dublin City University (DCU), Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Institute of Technology Tallaght, Maynooth University, Carlow Institute of Technology, and the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

Éirloop pod unveiling

The Éirloop Hyperloop pod unveiling event in DCU. Image: Nick Bradshaw

Working towards building the future

One of those making the trip to California this week ahead of some extensive testing is Nina Kanti, the team’s lead software architect, who is a recent graduate of DCU and founder of the university’s Women in Engineering group.

That means she is working behind the shiny exterior of the pod to make sure it actually works, from the complex array of sensors on board, to ensuring the brakes fire when they’re needed.

Her own involvement in the project started back in December of last year after hearing about it from a friend. Despite planning to take this summer off after completing her degree, she decided it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“I loved the idea,” Kanti told Siliconrepublic.com. “I love working on novel technology that hasn’t been implemented yet and [with Hyperloop] you’re working towards building the future, which is very cool.”

Since the last update in February, the team has progressed more than many might have even dreamed, having worked tirelessly to drum up funding from sponsors – both academic and private – and, through partnerships, it was able to reduce its estimated bill from €200,000 down to just €50,000.

Blistering speeds

There was also the additional support from the Government, with Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development John Halligan, TD, giving the team its official backing just a few months ago.

With this support, Kanti and the rest of the team were able to build the Éirloop pod in just six months. She admitted that at one point, she didn’t think such a feat was possible.

Now there is just the matter of getting the pod to the test tunnel, something that is actually a lot harder than it sounds, given that last year only three of the 20 competing teams managed to actually test their pods.

“This year we’re going to give it the best shot we can because we’re hoping to go around 140 metres per second,” Kanti said.

While this is definitely a competition, with many of the world’s top academic institutions involved, Kanti said that rivalry doesn’t really come into it when a potential game-changing technology is at hand.

Showing what Ireland is made of

Recently, a team member of Warr, last year’s winning pod (which was developed by the Technical University of Munich), happened to be visiting Ireland on holiday, and was more than willing to drop into the Éirloop team to offer some guidance and bounce around some ideas.

“There was also help from a Scottish team called Hyped, where we bounced ideas off each other and had a bit of banter on social media,” Kanti added.

As the team members prepare to descend on California ahead of the competition and testing gets underway, Kanti is considering her future career. While the winning team gets the prestige and the possibility that its ideas could be implemented in the final Hyperloop, on an individual level it is like a “careers fair”, she said. With a number of the team now entering the big, bad world of employment after graduation, it could prove a vital connection.

Some big names turn up to the competition, including engineering giants such as Airbus and Boeing, eager to see what the best minds in the world can come up with, and no doubt keeping an eye on any future talent.

Meanwhile, Kanti and the rest of her team have their eyes on the prize.

We’re here to make an impression,” she said, “because it’s a first [for Ireland] and we want to put our best foot forward, get in the tunnel and show what Ireland is made of.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic