Tag Archives: Elon Musk

Hyperloop fires up Aussie students

Featured image above: rendering of the VicHyper hyperloop pod on the streets of Melbourne 

A team of Australian university students is playing a major role in revolutionising the future of transportation technologies. They are working on what futurist entrepreneur Elon Musk describes as a ‘cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table’ – the Hyperloop. 

The group, from RMIT University in Melbourne, is led by engineering graduates Matthew O’Callaghan and Zachary McClelland, and is one of 30 finalists from 1,700 entrants from around the world working on a Hyperloop pod design.

Musk, known for his roles with PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, was inspired to explore the viability of Hyperloop technologies after being frustrated by the lack of cost-effective high-speed trains in the US. 

SpaceX – Musk’s rocket and spacecraft company – subsequently sponsored a global Hyperloop competition to design a transportation pod that will travel at speeds of up to 1,200 kilometres per hour levitated on a cushion of air or magnets inside a vacuum-sealed tube. 

It is envisaged the pods will eventually carry goods and people across large distances in a short time, providing greater efficiency than cars, trains and aircraft. Imagine, advocates say, ordering a pizza from your favourite restaurant 600 kilometres away and having it delivered to your home in 30 minutes. 

“What this can provide for the world is just amazing,” says 24-year-old O’Callaghan, who was inspired to enter the competition after growing up in the regional Australian city of Mildura. 

“It could transfer goods, and connect cities, particularly in Australia where they are so far apart. All of our cities can become suburbs. You could live in Melbourne and work in Sydney and commute every day.”

Hyperloop poised to become reality

VicHyper Co-founders L-R Matthew O’Callaghan and Zachary McClelland

O’Callaghan’s and McClelland’s project, named VicHyper, is supported by RMIT University and several Australian corporate partners. It is focused on building a braking system for the high-speed pods – a crucial part of the vehicle’s design.

The team travelled to Texas for the first in-person judging event in January 2016 where 115 designs, narrowed down from the almost 2,000 initial entries, were in competition. VicHyper returned to Melbourne with the ‘Braking Subsystem Technical Excellence Award’ and advanced to the next round. 

In late January 2017, the VicHyper team will return to the US as the only team from the Southern Hemisphere and compete in tests at the SpaceX track facility in Los Angeles. Other teams represent universities from the US, Canada, Spain, Germany, India and Japan, as well as a non-student team formed by members of the social media platform Reddit.

The VicHyper pod resembles a futuristic bobsleigh: 3.6 metres long, 1.3 metres wide and approximately one-metre high. It will demonstrate an electromagnetic braking system and friction brakes for low speeds or emergencies. 

As O’Callaghan explains, the system is more complicated than it sounds – or appears on paper. The team has spent several sleepless nights trying to bridge the gap between theory and reality. 


Motivated by innovation and change for good 

O’Callaghan graduated from RMIT with an aerospace engineering degree keen to pursue a career where he could “push the boundaries of innovation.

“I wanted to put my expertise into something that could benefit the greater community,” he says. “There is all this amazing technology out there we can use in amazing ways. I really want to help make a change.”

O’Callaghan read a white paper written by Musk about Hyperloop technology and was hooked by the concept. When SpaceX announced its competition for students, O’Callaghan knew this was an opportunity he couldn’t miss. 

He coaxed friend Zachary McClelland to join the him on the project and, with backing from RMIT, their paper sketches became reality.

“RMIT has been a huge support, providing access to technical staff and facilities, financial help, workspaces, logistics and transportation,” O’Callaghan says. “Without RMIT we wouldn’t be heading to the US. 

“I think they liked that it wasn’t just two guys with an idea on a piece of paper. We knew it was important to win people over and show them we really were going to do this. It is not just a pipe dream – pardon the pun.”

The Hyperloop concept has evolved beyond plans and may soon be reality. One company investing in Hyperloop technology has a development partnership with the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and another has announced an agreement to explore constructing a link between Bratislava in Slovakia and Prague in the Czech Republic.

Diverse team brings hyperloop best talent 

RMIT University’s VicHyper team

VicHyper is now a 30-strong team boasting electrical and mechanical aerospace engineers, industrial designers, graphic and website designers, and a media and public relations team. All team members are graduates or current students at RMIT.

“We really pushed to have a good gender, racial, skill and cultural balance on the team,” O’Callaghan says. “If you have a diverse environment, everybody has something unique to bring to the table.”

It’s not yet known what will happen after the competition. According to O’Callaghan, success can be measured in many ways. Primarily, he’s satisfied that Australian ideas have been recognised in a global competition where the majority of talent is from the US and Europe. 

“We wanted to show that Australia is at the forefront of this kind of technology – and that our team is straight out of university,” O’Callaghan says. 

“Nobody really knows what happens next but I am looking forward to what the outcome is. I definitely want to continue working on this technology and bring it to fruition.”

– Matthew Hall

This article was first published by Australia Unlimited on 26 Jan 2017. Read the original article here

Find the best 5 ways to get to Mars

Featured image above: Could this be your new home? We take a look at the best 5 ways to get to Mars if living on another world is an idea that entices you.

Looking for an escape from planet Earth? We look at the quickest and most likely 5 ways to get to Mars and start your new adventure.

1. Ask a genius

Serial entrepreneur extraordinaire Elon Musk announced earlier this year that Space X has a Mars mission in its sights. In an hour long video, the billionaire founder announced his aim to begin missions to Mars by 2018, and manned flights by 2024. The planned massive vehicles would be capable of carrying 100 passengers and cargo with a ambitious cost of US$200,000 per passenger. He’s joined by other ambitious privately funded projects including Amazon founder Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin, which describes a reusable rocket booster and separable capsule that parachutes to landing. Meanwhile American inventor and chemical engineer, Guido Fetta has pionered a concept long discussed by the scientific community, electromagnetic propulsion, or EM drive, which creates thrust by bouncing microwave photons back and forth inside a cone-shaped closed metal cavity. Rumours this week from José Rodal from MIT that NASA was ready to release a paper on the process, which would be game-changing for space travel as the concept doesn’t rely on a propellant fuel.

2. Hitch a ride

In November 2016, NASA and CSIRO’s Parkes telescope opened the second of two 34-m dishes that will send and receive data from planned Mars missions, while also listening out for possible alien communications as part of UC-Berkeley-led project called Breakthrough Listen, the largest global project to seek out evidence of alien life. The Southern Hemisphere dish joins others in the US in using signal-processing hardware to sift through radio noise from Proxima b, the closest planet to us outside of the solar system. Whether an alien race would be willing or able to offer humanity a ride off its home planet is another question.

3. Aim high

While they are focused on getting out of the solar system, a team led by Dr. Philip Lubin, Physics Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara think they could get the travel time to Mars down to just three days (as opposed to six to eight months). Their project, Directed Energy for Relativistic Interstellar Missions, or DEEP-IN, aims initially send “wafer sats”, wafer-scale systems weighing no more than a gram and embedded with optical communications, optical systems and sensors. It’s received funding of US$600,000 to date from NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, and theoretically could send wafer sats at one-quarter the speed of light – 160 million km an hour – using photonic propulsion. This relies on a laser beam to ‘push’ a incredibly small, thin-sail-like object through space. While it may seem a long shot for passenger travel, the system also has other applications in defence of the Earth from asteroids, comets and other near-earth objects, as well as the exploration of the nearby universe.

Image: An artist’s conception of the laser-led space propulsion. Credit Q. Zhang

4. Volunteer

The Mars One project already has 100 hopeful astronauts selected for its planned one-way trip – out of 202,586 applicants. The project is still at ‘Phase A’ – early concept stage – in terms of actually getting there, but makes the list of the top 5 ways to get to Mars due to the large amount of interest: it has raised US$ 1 million towards developing a practical way to safely land some of these select few on the red Planet.

5. Ask the experts

In 2020, Australia will host the COSPAR scientific assembly, a gathering of 3000 of the world’s top space scientists. The massive conference will no doubt include some of the top minds focussed on this very problem, offering new hope in our long-term quest for planetary travel.

“We come to the table with a bold vision for our nation’s place in science – and through science, our place in space, said Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel.

Tesla’s Elon Musk calls for carbon tax

Elon Musk, engineer, inventor and CEO of Tesla Motors is calling for the introduction of a carbon tax. In an address to students at Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris, Musk called for nations to adopt a carbon tax in order to speed up the transition from carbon-emitting fossil fuels to renewable energy technologies.

Attended by representatives from nearly 200 countries, the Paris Climate Summit is the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The aim of summit is to achieve a legally binding agreement to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrialised levels – a threshold, most scientists believe, that if exceeded will lead to dangerous and irreversible climate change.

Speaking at the university, a side event to the Paris Climate Summit, Musk urged students to campaign and lobby governments to implement policy introducing a price on carbon.

“To make it neither a left or right issue, we should make it a revenue-neutral carbon tax,” explains Musk.

“By progressively increasing the carbon tax and reducing tax in other areas like consumption taxes or VAT, would give companies time to react, so a phased approach should be adopted.”

By placing a price on carbon, the cost of generating power from energy resources such as coal, oil, natural gas and other fossil fuel-based derivatives – a major cause of man-made climate change – would increase. And, depending on the level at which the price is set, could shift investment from ‘dirty’ generators, such as coal-fired power plants, to cleaner renewable energy technologies such as PV, solar, wind and geothermal.

“If countries agree to an appropriately priced and targeted carbon tax, we could see a transition [to clean energy] that has a 15- to 20-year timeframe as opposed to a 40- or 50-year timeframe,” says Musk.

Musk, who’s scheduled to address delegates at the Paris talks to outline his ideas for mitigating climate change, is critical of previous climate summits: “The Paris talks are likely to bring about degrees of success, but nothing came out of the Copenhagen climate talks, where there was a net increase, rather than decrease in global warming. We need to send a clear message that this time there needs to be significant change,” he says.

Musk, however, is optimistic about positive outcomes of COP21. A position supported by a movement emerging from the talks, with billionaires like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and other high profile entrepreneurs, pledging to kick-start a “new economic revolution” based on investment in renewables.

Australia is well placed to benefit from increased investment in renewables. According to a recent report from the Energy Supply Association of Australia, 15% of Australian homes have solar panels installed – the highest rate in the world. A fact acknowledged by Musk, who has indicated that he sees Australia as the first market for Tesla’s Powerwall battery storage technology units, which could be available in Australia by the end of 2015.

– Carl Williams