Badgerloop’s Run for Hyperloop Glory Captures the Attention of Elon Musk

Judy Warner
|  Created: July 19, 2017  |  Updated: March 16, 2020

Team Badgerloop,  Pod II W Team
Team Badgerloop at the June Pod II Reveal

In 2013, Elon Musk introduced the concept of a Hyperloop transit system in a white paper. He proposed a completely open source approach to its development and invited universities to participate in a pod competition. SpaceX funded the construction of a near-mile subscale version of a vacuum tube in which to trial pods for the competition. For the first competition, only 3 pods would earn an opportunity to win a highly-coveted tube-run based on a set of criteria set by SpaceX.

For all teams, the first step was concept and design. Selected design submissions would be featured and judged at Design Weekend in January of 2016 at Texas A&M. Out of 1,000 design submissions, only 120 teams were chosen to participate in Design Weekend. Not only did team Badgerloop make the cut, they came in third place in the overall design and build category, among an impressive field of global competitors. This secured their chance to build their pod and compete in the first competition in January 2017.

The Badgerloop team size varies throughout the academic year and summer from 30-80 members. Castle is one of about a dozen leads and is the point man for the electrical team. The electrical systems team designed one STM nucleo microcontroller board and shield using Altium Designer® that they can reuse as new iterations of pods are developed. They also designed a battery regulation board and a solenoid control board. To streamline the workflow, they developed a subversion network which allowed them to work closely and collaboratively on PCB designs during the summer when team members reside on 2 continents and 3 time zones.

Pod II unveiled, aka the pod built for Elon Musk
Pod II Unveiled on June 17, 2017

Team Badgerloop unveiled Pod One in December 2016, and traveled across the country to the first Hyperloop Pod competition in late January. They set their sights high and worked 40-50 hours a week on the pod in hopes of getting in the tube. In a heart wrenching twist, during the inspection process, they inadvertently left the 12 volt battery on, and lost all power. They found a substitute power supply that completely fried the electronics systems which extinguished all hope of making a tube run. Since the pods were autonomous and subscale in size, none of the competitors put in a passenger seat, except for Badgerloop. They also installed an audio system inside. Leading up to and during the competition the team had been continuously tweeting Musk to invite him to come sit in their pod. SpaceX engineers assured the team Musk would never show up. Additionally, their pod was staged about a ¼ mile away from the podium where Musk delivered a brief speech before disappearing from the event. A while later, crowds began to gather and move toward the Badgerloop pod. As it grew closer, Elon Musk emerged to greet the Badgerloop president and team. Musk declined their invitation to climb aboard despite the team pleading, “we built this for you!” Finally, someone from the crowd shouted, “GET IN THE POD!” Musk smiled and crawled into the Badgerloop pod for a quick photo op. The team went wild. Their 8 minute video from the competition and moment with Musk is priceless!

Elon Musk sitting in the Badgerloop Pod
Elon sitting in the Badgerloop Pod

Team Badgerloop kept their eyes on future technologies, scalability and innovation in their design and featured Halbach wheels which are magnetic and when spun at a certain speed causes propulsion. SpaceX recognized their forward-thinking with an innovation award presented at the close of the competition.

Elon Musk gives the Badgerloop Electrical Team lead by Ryan Castle a thumbs up

I asked Castle what he felt were the major triumphs and disappointments of the competition for Team Badgerloop. He explained that everyone involved got to experience many real world engineering challenges. They all learned things that far exceeded the inherent limitations of classroom learning. Simple things like knowing where to source components, and factoring in cost and lead times were eye-opening. So many unexpected challenges arose that they learned from, yet now know how to handle. Instead of just being handed and resources, they had to learn how to allocate and budget resources wisely. They learned from what they did wrong, as much as from what they did right. Castle and fellow team members know that this will be an invaluable asset to add to their resumes as they enter the workplace. Castle also said that being a team lead gave him a deeper sense of responsibility.

Ryan Castle, Badgerloop Electrical Team Lead

First among their disappointments was not getting their pod into the tube. They also realize they spent way too much on express shipping. The team also regrets not allocating more funds to quality lab equipment. Having to share oscilloscopes, for example, caused them to have to go across campus to borrow from other departments.

Next time they will simplify and streamline the design. Among Castle’s personal regrets is the slight dip in his GPA, however he knows it's insignificant in light of what he learned and the accomplishments of the team. Next time the team will allow much more time for test. They now know how critical testing is to success.

The new pod, Pod II, was unveiled to the public on June 17th in a reveal event. Pod II was built from scratch. Once again the team has set their sights on getting their pod inside the tube. This time they will be using a propulsion cold gas thruster, like those used in rockets. This pod is much faster, able to reach speeds around 150 mps or 335 mph. Since the vacuum tube is just under a mile long, they aren’t sure that SpaceX will allow them to run at top speed for safety reasons. The braking system on Pod II is a friction brake with a linear actuator that clamps onto the I-beam. This pod is a bit smaller and has a carbon-fiber shell. However, a person can still fit inside (like someone named Elon). It is autonomously controlled, but both the Badgerloop team and SpaceX have emergency brakes.

Last year the three teams that made the tube run all consisted of graduate students and Phds. Team Badgerloop consists of almost all undergrads--but this doesn’t seem to discourage this eager group of UW Badgers in the least.

When asked about their primary goals for the 2nd Hyperloop competition in late August, Castle said there are three main goals:

  • Get into the tube

  • Safety. The amount of energy in the propulsion systems is extremely dangerous.

  • Have the fastest instantaneous velocity with successful deceleration...and WIN!!!

(See Competition Pod flights here)

About Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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