On July 22nd 2018 WARR Hyperloop did it again, writes Alexander Schultz-Storz of Panasonic Industry Europe – the team from the Technical University of Munich won the Hyperloop Pod Competition for the third consecutive time.
The event was hosted by SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk (pictured), at the company’s Hawthorne, California headquarters, as it has been since its inauguration. To begin at the beginning…
See also: TUM Munich team wins 2018 Hyperloop Pod competition
For years Californian political and business leaders have discussed the merits of a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Frustrated by the debate and alarmed by the costs, environmental impact and energy requirements for this new rail line, Elon Musk, the well-known entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX, proposed a radical new mode of transportation: Hyperloop.
The idea behind Hyperloop is simple: propel passengers between cities at speeds of over 970km/h in capsules that float in partial vacuum tubes. With less air resistance, pods can reach and maintain supersonic speeds – powered entirely by solar energy – transporting passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 30 minutes.
To quote Alexander Schultz-Storz, Division Director, Solution Competence Division at Panasonic Industry:
“Beyond its economic benefits, Hyperloop offers a significant reduction in carbon emissions. The Hyperloop concept is intended to replace billions of commuter car passenger miles, as well as free up airspace. As futuristic as it sounds, this concept is not a pipe dream: the pace of innovation is notably increasing, with 2018 already seeing several big announcements, such as Virgin’s Hyperloop One.”
While the idea may be simple, the engineering isn’t. Therefore in June 2015, SpaceX announced an open competition for independent and university engineering teams to design a half-scale Hyperloop pod and have it tested on a track at SpaceX.
What started out as Elon Musk’s ambitious, possibly far-fetched, concept has transformed into the next obvious step for transportation. Students and engineers around the world have taken on the technical challenges involved, and, in the spirit of collective progress, all intellectual property produced during the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition will be publicly available, ensuring that nothing stands in the way of implementing a full-scale Hyperloop, thus delivering a fundamentally better transportation future.
An academia-industry interface is crucial for success in this endeavour. This interface needs to be characterized by an interactive and collaborative exchange between academic institutions and the industrial sector. This is especially important if there is no real reference design available yet but if it has to be started from scratch.
Martin Dziura, Scientific Director, TUM: “As soon as companies and universities work hand in hand to push the frontiers of knowledge, they become a catalyst for innovation and economic growth. Industry partnerships give students and faculties additional funding. By striking up corporate partnerships, universities have more resources to undertake research and they are able to diversify their areas of research.”
“But it’s not all about the financial support. The more significant contribution is gaining industry feedback and guidance. Universities know that some problems can’t be solved in isolation in a lab, and industry feedback is key to taking an invention or product from conception to market. Panasonic Industry has a wide range of technologies that can be found in our latest WARR Hyperloop pod.”
On Board the WARR Hyperloop
To levitate, usually either air bearings, (basically blasting air to levitate, like air hockey tables) or magnets are used. This results in levitation. Linear induction motors then propel the pod along the tube. Pods get pushed at high speed and will stay at a high speed a long time because there is no friction from the ground and they are in a vacuum. Since there is very low friction from the air, it is possible to cruise for miles.
For the design of the WARR Hyperloop, the team decided on a third method: using wheels for acceleration until liftoff speed is reached or braking is required.
“Our design concept is influenced in many ways by the e-mobility sector. On that basis, a co-operation with Panasonic Industry was a logical and necessary step for us. Using an electric motor guarantees the best possible acceleration, but it also creates safety requirements for our components that are typical of electric vehicles,”explains Martin Riedel, Technical Lead, WARR Hyperloop
Since the battery voltage of the pod is several hundred volts, the electrical system must meet essential safety requirements. The electromechanical components that provide the necessary security when loading and driving play an essential role in this context. This is where grid isolation relays are used to interrupt or close the corresponding circuits.”
Here’s a more detailed look at the areas and design-in questions where Panasonic Industry’s products and technical support helped:
The most challenging aspect of the cooperation between Panasonic Industry and the WARR Hyperloop team was the selection of different sensors to monitor the performance of the pod and guarantee its safety.
Riedel continues: ”The laser light sensor from Panasonic Industry determines the position of the pod inside the tube. To achieve this, the laser must read several markings within the tube while it accelerates with a maximum speed of 600km/h. The specific design challenge for us is not only that the laser reads the mark but also that this information is processed correspondingly quickly.
The detection of these marks had the strictest timing requirements of any task: the 101.6mm wide marks pass a laser sensor in 610µs at a relative speed of 167 m/s, which demands a 1.64kHz minimum sampling rate. This information is then used to determine the best place to initiate braking. For us, the key benefits of Panasonic Industry’s laser sensor were its robustness when coping with movement and environmental influences, its miniature size and its light weight.”
To achieve perfectly smooth sliding of the pod, it is essential that the magnets and the vehicle always maintain the same distance from the rails. If the vehicle leans or inclines, efficiency, speed, and smoothness are impaired – possibly dramatically. Maintaining the correct position with respect to the rails facilitates easy and uncomplicated measurement and recording of pod behavior and its driving dynamics without adding weight and design costs.
Continues Riedel: ”What caught our attention were the specifications of the HG-C1050: it has a very precise and compact casing, a combination which we had never seen before. This enables us to measure the relative position of the pod to the rail – vital information when we come to analyze driving dynamics and vehicle behavior. We have to ensure that we made the right design decision…and this vehicle behaves as planned and expected.”
Reducing size and weight and saving energy were the first design parameters WARR Hyperloop had defined for itself during the construction and planning of their pod. In the effort to minimalize weight and increase battery performance, a lot of attention was given to improving the efficiency of the AC-to-DC power conversion and distributed power generation through various subsystems.
This is where relays had to come into play, since they function as a switching device used to control the path of electricity, thereby controlling the circuit the voltage is directed to. Panasonic has been meeting the highly specialized power needs of the industrial and automotive markets with a vast range of innovative and economic relays for more than 30 years.
Riedel added: “We picked Panasonic’s PA-N for controlling our subsystems due to its high-density mounting, low operating power and small casing, which measures only 20 x 5 x 12.5mm.”
Thick Film Chip Resistors
Riedel concludes: “In the electronic battery control systems for charging and cell balancing, we are looking for any advantages that can be gained in the critical areas of safety and reliability – both vital factors in securing a pole position for our Hyperloop pod. Panasonic supported the WARR Hyperloop by providing Thick Film Chip Resistors.
Lithium batteries are very susceptible to over-charging or discharging at an accelerated rate. Resistors are used to improve battery efficiency; specifically for monitoring the power from the cell to the electric motor and for regenerative braking, where they control the current in and out of the battery.
Panasonic’s new Thick Film Resistors are ideal for this application, thanks to a high power capability of up to 0.6 W and resistance values down to 0.001 Ω, making them suitable as balancing resistors, enabling optimum charging by equalizing voltage levels across the battery system.
Panasonic’s sensors, resistors as well as relays play an essential role in the WARR Hyperloop pod and in achieving the team’s goals of miniaturization and increased efficiency. Together with Panasonic’s, engineering know-how and product guidance and financial support a highly successful pod design was created and who knows, maybe we will even see elements of that design in the Hyperloop that might eventually transport us from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the future.
Alexander Schultz-Storz, Division Director, Cross Value Division, Panasonic Industry Europe
View this WARR Hyperloop gallery, and a video further below: