AZLoop is a unique collaboration between students at Arizona State University, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and Northern Arizona University. Together, we are Arizona’s SpaceX Hyperloop Competition Team – a group of over 100 graduate and undergraduate students representing various fields of science, engineering, and business. Fueled by our enthusiasm for innovation and technology, the team is working hard to make the Hyperloop a reality through collaborative efforts, the exchange of ideas, and a passion to strive for no less than the best. This dedication led SpaceX to select AZLoop as 1 of only 23 teams in the world to build some of the first ever prototypes for the Hyperloop. We will launch our pod down SpaceX’s one mile test track in Hawthorne, CA during Competition Weekend on August 25-27, 2017.
People often wonder how the AZLoop Hyperloop movement was started in Arizona. That story begins back in October of 2015, a time when Arizona State University was undergoing the ABET reaccreditation process for its engineering program. As part of that, one of the accreditors wanted to speak with some of the students at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. This was an opportunity for him to ask questions and learn more about students’ perceptions of the Polytechnic School’s engineering program. It was also an opportunity for ASU to present some of it’s top performing students to the accreditors. A dozen or so of the school’s most influential students were then hand selected to attend this discussion with the ABET official.
That meeting turned out to be more than a discussion of engineering curriculum and the outlook of job prospects for the students. One of those in attendance that day, Project Co-Lead Josh Kosar, a robotics engineering sophomore at the time, seized the opportunity, knowing that it was a rare occasion to have some of ASU’s top engineering students all in one room together. After the meeting concluded, he asked those in attendance if they were interested in starting a team that would compete in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition I. Project Co-Lead Lynne Nethken, currently a mechanical engineering graduate student who earned her bachelor’s at ASU’s Polytechnic School in robotics, was also one of the students who attended the meeting that day. As soon as she heard the words “SpaceX” and “competition”, she was immediately intrigued. “I knew I had to be a part of this. Not only was it an interesting engineering problem, trying to figure out how to make a pod levitate safely in a near-vacuum tube going 760 mph, but I also saw it as an opportunity to revolutionize transportation and change the world through innovation,” Nethken says.
With a small team of less than a dozen students, the ASU Polytechnic School Hyperloop Competition Team was formed. Kosar says, “It was really tough, but also very exciting to be a part of something that will transform the lives of others. There were a lot of late nights and even more all-nighters.” Despite the small size of their team, the ASU Polytechnic Hyperloop team qualified as one of the last 120 teams to make it to Design Weekend in January of 2016 – beating out over 1200 other competitors from across the world. At Design Weekend, five of the members had the opportunity to present their final design concept for a Hyperloop pod to a panel of SpaceX judges.
Unfortunately, the team was cut at Design Weekend as SpaceX had concerns regarding their abilities to accomplish such a feat of building a Hyperloop pod in a short period of time and with so few students. “A few of the team’s designs required further analysis to validate, and there were some technical aspects that SpaceX wanted us to explore more”, says Kosar. Still an impressive feat given that this small group of students had made it so far – competing against others teams who had anywhere from 100 to 300 members. There was another small team of Arizona students at Design Weekend that year from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott campus. “We met them at the airport on the way home from Design Weekend. Unfortunately, their team didn’t make it through either, but they were a really great group of students and also wanted to continue forward with the project.”, says Kosar.
“It was an excellent learning opportunity for all of us. While waiting for SpaceX to officially announce a second competition, we took the time afforded to rally a larger team and more resources,” says Nethken. That announcement finally came in September of 2016. Following the mantra of ASU President Dr. Michael Crow, “We are measured not by whom we exclude, but rather by whom we include and how they succeed”, Josh and Lynne decided to officially open up the team to students at the ASU Tempe campus, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Northern Arizona University, and the Thunderbird School of Global Management. “I drove all over the state of Arizona for two weeks hosting recruitment events at each of the schools and I am so glad that I did. It has now started a Hyperloop movement here in Arizona.”, says Nethken. From that point forward the team officially became known as AZLoop – Arizona’s SpaceX Hyperloop Competition Team, a group of over 100 students from four different universities in the state of Arizona, from freshmen to PhD, majoring in various fields of engineering, science, mathematics, design, and business.
With a solid design concept, much larger team, a 3000 square foot lab space, and plans for a ½ mile Hyperloop test track at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, they are ready to take it through to Competition Weekend this time. To say that these students take this project seriously is an understatement. Despite demanding course loads and many with part time jobs, each member who joins AZLoop contributes a minimum of ten hours per week, with many putting in much more than that. “Knowing from last year’s competition just how much work is involved, we made it a requirement that each member commit a minimum set of hours. This has allowed us to form a really dedicated, multischolastic, and interdisciplinary team comprised of some of the most talented and brilliant students in Arizona. Not only am I confident that we will be a build team in Competition II – but we are going to win it.”, says Kosar.
When asked what makes the team so motivated while also juggling intensive course loads, Nethken says, “The motivation that stems from competitiveness is in itself a key component to the team’s success, but we also have a long-term vision. We want to bring the Hyperloop to Arizona so that we can revolutionize travel for our state. Hyperloop technology needs more testing before it will be put into production, but we are looking forward to the day when people and cargo can travel from Phoenix to Tucson in 15 minutes or even from Phoenix to San Diego or Vegas in 30.”
Competition Weekend II is slated for Summer 2017. At that time, AZLoop will launch their first ½ scale pod prototype down a one-mile test track located at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.