ISU Hyperloop returns from Design Weekend with new name, focus

Though not chosen to advance to competition weekend, materials engineering senior Andrew Kitahara and the ISU Hyperloop team walked away from the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition Design Weekend with a bigger prize: the desire to continue working to revolutionize the world.

Kitahara and the ISU Hyperloop team competed in the Design Weekend held January 29 and 30, 2016 at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.

Kitahara was happily surprised when ISU Hyperloop was invited to Design Weekend. Over 1200 teams had originally expressed interest in participating in the worldwide competition. This was later reduced to just over 300 teams, and the final 124 teams were invited to Design Weekend.

Going into Design Weekend, Kitahara knew it would be a remarkable experience but was still caught off-guard by what he witnessed.

“It was captivating,” he said. “Getting to experience Design Weekend with my team alongside all the other teams from the U.S. and abroad made me feel like Tadashi Hamada from [the Disney movie] Big Hero 6.”

Each team asked to participate in Design Weekend displayed their projects in open booths for other teams and the general public to see. Teams could then mingle with fellow competitors and spectators to discuss their projects with one another. Kitahara said it was amazing to walk to different booths and see over 100 unique solutions for Hyperloop technology. He noted that while many teams had similar ideas in parts of their design, no team had the exact same end product.

The other important aspect of Design Weekend involved each team giving two formal presentations on their project to a panel of judges from SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and other experts in the field from universities and other industry organizations. In one presentation, ISU Hyperloop presented a full-scale design briefing that highlighted the design process and outcomes. In the other presentation, the team provided judges with a closer look at the aerodynamics work and the structural design involved in their project.

The judges gave the team a full design vetting and offered constructive feedback that led to some potential ideas for solutions.

“We knew our design still had some problems and the judges were happy to see that we recognized that,” Kitahara said. “Their feedback was invaluable. They gave a fair share of criticism on our design, but overall the judges said they were pleased with our presentation and they were excited for our future work.”

While ISU Hyperloop was not invited to Competition Weekend set to take place in June, Kitahara said the team came home inspired and determined to extend their vision.

One of the great things to come out of Design Weekend was the opportunity to network with other teams and foster collaborations. Where other teams admired ISU Hyperloop’s aerodynamics design and computational fluid dynamics analysis, ISU admired the teams that had strengths in the team’s shortcomings, such as a control systems plan and other power systems. With the Hyperloop competition expected to extend into next year, Kitahara said two teams, one from Texas A&M University and one from Istanbul Technical University, were highly interested in collaborating with ISU Hyperloop for the next competition. Kitahara noted that these are two highly skilled teams and they each expect to be stronger when they unite as one.

Kitahara said the team is excited to continue with the competition.

“We have seen what we can do with the Hyperloop and we plan to continue with the project for as long as there is a competition,” said Kitahara.

But the Hyperloop is not the only thing the team has in their sights. The team came back inspired to do more and take on new challenges. After they returned to Ames, the team got together and had a detailed discussion about their strengths and weaknesses, potential future opportunities, and how to be better next time.

“Everyone on our team put in countless hours of work every week with the goal that we might do something to benefit our world,” Kitahara said. “Coming back to ISU and simply not doing anything was not acceptable. We all had a taste of being part of something far greater than ourselves and we craved more.”

And out of that discussion, a new team name and vision were born. Called IMPACT (Innovators Making Positive Advances in Creative Technologies), the group hopes to find creative avenues to utilize what is learned in the classroom and apply it to real-world challenges. The new team is developing a structure to determine which project to pursue. Early ideas include developing smart cities, clean water solutions, and atmospheric carbon reduction technologies.

IMPACT hopes to recruit students of all ages and majors. Kitahara said that of the core Hyperloop group, most of the team were freshmen and sophomores, making them a young team with a lot of talent. Going forward, the team hopes to foster this young talent and recruit more members beyond the engineering disciplines, such as students from industrial design, interior design, architecture, marketing, business, sustainability, and graphic design.

“We want to work with the entire university to showcase the talent that ISU has in a way that has not been done before and redefine the meaning of student involvement,” Kitahara said.

With Kitahara graduating this May, fellow materials engineering student Mollie Hoffman is set to take the reins of IMPACT. But in the meantime he is still very involved with the group and is doing all he can to help get IMPACT off the ground.

Kitahara knows that it will be hard to leave the group but is confident in their abilities to venture forward in these new opportunities.

“My time at ISU is coming to an end more quickly than I would like,” he said. “But I cannot wait to see what happens with IMPACT. This is Iowa State’s team, and I cannot think of a better way of showing it than in engaging in collaborative work with our peers both at ISU and beyond to accelerate the progress we are hoping to make.”