Building the Future

Nov 18 2016

A team of NYU Shanghai students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, are out to prove at the upcoming Hyperloop One Global Challenge in January that the sci-fi idea of high speed travel may turn out to be the best way of navigating China’s cities of the future. They are competing for a spot among 12 finalists.

The Hyperloop--a proposed fifth mode of transportation that moves passengers and goods in reduced-pressure tubes--is an idea set forth by Elon Musk, founder, CEO and CTO of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX).

In January, the team competed in SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Design Weekend. After joining forces with NYU Tandon School of Engineering to become NYU Hyperloop, the team collaborated on three months of extensive research to make the case for why and how the hyperloop should be developed in China. Their dream is to advance the future of high speed travel starting with the potential connection of two thriving metropolises--Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Here the crew talks to the Gazette about how Hyperloop could potentially grow connections between major cities in China.

How did the team proceed after the SpaceX competition?

We made it through to the final round of the pod competition and partnered with the extensive engineering strength of the greater NYU global network, specifically the Tandon School of Engineering. After joining forces, the NYU Shanghai team (now the Shanghai Research Arm) was really able to shine, as we looked at the effects of a paradigm shift of transportation technology in China.

While we may not have had the engineering prowess of massive technology universities, we worked on understanding this transportation metamorphosis. Economic projections, calculating environmental benefits, and even examining the social implications of transforming a 2.5-hour car ride into a journey that would take less than 7 minutes using the Hyperloop--this external investigation was something that NYU Shanghai could uniquely provide due to our global positioning, perspective, and grit of the student body.

 

How were research responsibilities divided up?

We were responsible for figuring out how to accelerate the development of Hyperloop in China, and make our case for why we chose the route from Shanghai to Hangzhou. Some of us looked at how Hyperloop would transform the future of transportation. We also had to consider passenger and cargo flows, addressing the historical figures for each on the Shanghai to Hangzhou route and the expectations for future demand. Those of us working on the government and policy aspect navigated government regulations, deciphering and translating intensely technical policies for insight on how to develop this foreign technology in China.

Why build Hyperloop in China?

To prolong the economic boom that began twenty years ago. Growth is high, above 5% per year. By 2025, it’s projected that more than 350 million will move from rural areas into cities.  In this context, Hyperloop becomes a visibly obvious solution for China, promising both speed and a reduced impact on the already strained environment for which successful urban transition depends on.

Hyperloop uses 4 times less energy per passenger than a high speed rail. It’s proposed as a safer, faster, lower cost, more convenient, weather-immune, sustainably self-powering, and undisruptive means of transportation--it's a tunnel, so no sound is emitted and it's not visible. Given that the tube can handle 28 passengers per pod, with pods departing every minute back and forth, the system can transport 53,600 people per day, or 19,564,000 per year. The projected cost to build between Shanghai and Hangzhou would be US$ 4 billion, with ticket prices costing around 104 RMB each way.

Not only does Hyperloop offer tangible benefits such as the liquidity of transport that allows people to move around faster, but as part of public private partnerships between China and Hyperloop One--a foreign company--there is great potential to forge a stronger bond of trust between the two countries.

How do you make the case from Shanghai to Hangzhou?

People could live 200 miles away and reap the benefits of living in a satellite city like Hangzhou while working in Shanghai. We discovered that in ten years, Shanghai might have 35-40 million people, and the issuance of hukou (household registration) in Shanghai--which entitles people to reap the benefits of the city they live and work in--will end. Two years ago, China's New Urbanization Plan talked about reducing the effects of big urban cities, such as congestion and pollution, by creating satellite cities outside of these large cities.

It’s already congested and hard to get around as is in Shanghai, with people commuting from Minhang to Lujiazui in about 50 minutes. On the high speed rail, 50 minutes covers 200 miles. Imagine Hyperloop covering those 200 miles in about 10 minutes. In 47 minutes, Hyperloop can take you nearly 600 miles -- enough distance to completely dissipate the effects of pollution between two cities. Hyperloop then emerges as a suitable transportation system for these satellite towns.

Hyperloop would be a cleaner solution to efficiently and directly transport goods between Shanghai--a strong financial hub, to Hangzhou, a powerful manufacturing base. Using Hyperloop would mean foregoing the usual mode of transporting cargo via high volumes of trucks and cars that add to environmental pollution.

Imagine the transformative effects the Hyperloop could bring about on Shanghai ports. Container hubs would no longer need to be right on prime waterfront land because Hyperloop could whisk them from less valuable lands to the ports for shipping in a matter of hours. This would free up acres of extremely valuable waterfront property.

What is up next?

We’re looking forward to the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, where we’ll present our research before an international jury of leading experts in transport, technology, economics and innovation. We are also participating in the final round of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition, from January 27-29, 2017, in which we will test race a fully functioning prototype, (will reach up to 150 mph) against teams such as MIT, Carnegie Mellon and USC.

Check out a previous interview and past coverage of the team here.

The Gazette would like to thank NYU Hyperloop’s, Bradford Sunderland ‘19, Eric Zuo ‘19, Sean Kelly ‘17, Anthony Yanchuk ‘19, Luke Chen ‘19, Miki Bin ‘20, Honey Asrat Lera '19, Faye Dai ‘19, Alina Kalintceva ‘17, Baaria Chaudhary ‘17, Ivan Marks ‘17, Franklin Chi ‘19, Hank Wu ‘20, Martin Bao ‘19, and Tony Deng ‘20 for participating in the construction of this interview.

 

The NYU Hyperloop Shanghai Research Arm is:

Research Lead & Acceleration Plan: How can we accelerate the development of hyperloop in China?

Bradford Sunderland ‘19

Research Co-Lead: Eric: Zuo ‘19

Corridor: Why choose Shanghai to Hangzhou?

Tony Deng '20 and Hank Wu '20

Strategic Transformation: How will Hyperloop transform the future of transportation?

Lead by Anthony Yanchuk '19 and co-lead by Baaria Chaudhary '17 + input from whole team

Passenger and Cargo Flows: What are historical figures for passengers and cargo in this route and expectations for future demand?

Lead by Luke Chen '19, with Franklin Chi '19, Martin Bao '19, and Honey Asrat Lera '19

Government and Policy: How to navigate government regulations to develop Hyperloop, a foreign technology, in China?

Lead by Ivan Marks '17, Alina Kalintceva '17,  with Miki Bin '19 and Faye Dai '20