An essential part of the Hyperloop system is the hyperloop pod itself. The pods will soar through vacuum tubes at nearly the speed of sound, transporting people and cargo to their destinations faster and more sustainable than any current transportation system. For such a vehicle to be designed, many different factors need to be taken into consideration. These include technology, travel demand, safety and user experience. At Delft Hyperloop, a team of nine engineers have taken on this challenge and developed a concept for the ideal design of such a vehicle; the Delft Hyperloop Passenger Pod. While hyperloop is a new mode of transportation having many features that are unique to this new system, the design also takes cues from existing modes, such as (maglev) trains and airplanes. It should be noted that this is a separate design from Atlas 02 (the pod for the 2019 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition), as the passenger pod is designed for the implementation of a full-scale hyperloop system.
One of the first things that stands out when looking at the pod, is the symmetric bidirectional design of the exterior that allows for travel in both directions. As it eliminates the need for pods to be turned around at the station, the bidirectional design allows for a significant decrease in the area needed for hyperloop stations. This is beneficial since the hyperloop system works most optimally if stations can be built in or near the city center. Furthermore, the aerodynamic drawbacks of not having a distinct nose and tail are marginal. Since the influence of the tail is predominant in aerodynamic drag, a ‘tail-tail’ concept is designed. This means that both ends of the pod have an elongated shape – like the top part of a water droplet – to minimise the effects of shockwaves in the tubes. Due to the near vacuum environment in the tube and the atmospheric pressure inside the pods, the pod has a cylindrical shape as this is optimal for such a pressure vessel.
For a hyperloop pod to reach speeds of around 1000 km/h efﬁciently, it needs to levitate. For levitation, the use of air bearings in combination with a compressor (as seen in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Alpha paper) is found not to be technically feasible. Instead, Electrodynamic Suspension (EDS) is the most viable technology, as it is a reliable passive system. A Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) will be used for the propulsion of the pod, because of its high efﬁciency and its proven track record in Maglev trains.
The context for the design is the year 2040, when it is estimated that the hyperloop system could be operational on a wide scale. Each pod is designed to accommodate 50 passengers. This is determined by performing a trade-off between projected passenger throughput and pod size. Using this number of passengers, along with a limited pod diameter, a seating layout based on rows of three passengers is determined. This sets the general pod dimensions to 30 m in length, an inner diameter of 2.5 m and an outer diameter of 2.7 m. The estimated mass of the vehicle is 45,000 kg. A hyperloop pod is estimated to cost between 8.5 to 10 million euro.
As passenger throughput is a critical aspect of making the hyperloop system economically viable, it is important to have a high pod frequency. Therefore, an optimal passenger flow through the stations into the pods is required. For this reason, ease of embarking is an important factor influencing the design. The pods have two doors on each side, so that embarking and disembarking can be separated at the stations. Through each door, approximately 25 people will enter or leave the vehicle. This is found to be the optimal balance between high embarking speed and minimising the number of doors. Other solutions for ease of embarking include indication lights to signal vacant seats and aisles free of any obstructions.
The interior of the pod is designed to satisfy the needs of all future users of the hyperloop system. For example, the interior is divided into different sections to suit the diverse needs of travellers. In the middle there is the social section, suitable for groups of 2, 4 and 6 people. Displays are featured on the walls in this section to enhance the social experience of the travellers. Seamless connectivity to personal devices will offer an optimal user experience. Next to the social section, there are the two business-oriented sections. These offer an individual and calm environment to work, read or relax in. Furthermore, in the far end of the pod a private compartment can be found where private meetings can be held during the trip. The other end of the pod offers a restroom. The seats in the hyperloop have a sitting-angle that is optimal for both working and relaxing, and luggage can be stored underneath the seats. To make the hyperloop an inclusive system, one of the fifty seats next is left out to make room for a wheelchair.
Throughout history, new forms of transportation have always been met with apprehension. When the first trains were introduced, people were afraid that their organs would not be able to cope with the high speeds. A more recent example of this is the reluctance to trust self-driving cars. This will not be any different for the hyperloop. It is essentially a pressurised capsule travelling through an airless tube at nearly the speed of sound. In order to ensure safety, the pod is equipped with two first-aid kits with AED’s, and an intercom system to always be able to have contact with operators if needed. The doors and aisles have been designed in accordance with airplane safety regulations. Next to actual safety, perceived safety is also essential for a pleasant travel experience. For example, the interior offers travel information such as time until arrival, so people can always be aware of their current situation.
As it is not feasible to have windows in a hyperloop pod, it will be a very isolated environment to travel in. Therefore, one of the big challenges for the design is user experience; making sure people will feel comfortable and at ease while travelling inside a hyperloop pod and preventing claustrophobic effects. To achieve this, nature has been the primary source of inspiration for the interior design of the pod. Natural materials have an innate quality that creates a familiar, calm and pleasant environment to people from many different cultures. Furthermore, the interior is designed to be as spacious and open as possible, without any unnecessary obtrusions. The use of wood in the floor and tables, the light colours in the seats and walls, and the skylights along the length of the ceiling are examples of this. Apart from creating a spacious atmosphere, the skypanels make sure that people will not feel separated from the outside world, as the ceiling can simulate the time of day outside the tubes. This daylight simulation helps support a natural circadian rhythm and will make people feel happier overall during their trip.
Ultimately, Delft Hyperloop envisions a transportation system that is fully sustainable, creating a future in which people will not have to feel guilty if they travel. Instead, people will be able to fully enjoy their trip while speeding smoothly towards their destinations.
By Delft Hyperloop, March 2019