Pod Casting

Foster students power the business end of an international engineering challenge

Foster School students Nicholas Wood, Will Oaks, Dom Gorecki, Emma Xia and Luke Cantor take a look under the hood of this year’s Washington Hyperloop pod.

At last year’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, the annual student challenge to develop Elon Musk’s vision of high-speed tubular transport, a team of University of Washington undergrads finished first the United States, fourth in the world and received an innovation award for its cold gas thruster propulsion system.

But the gap between Washington Hyperloop and the European champ was pretty vast. The big difference? Money.

It takes resources to engineer the optimal aerodynamics, materials, stability, fuel and propulsion required to be the fastest pod in the tube. And compared to last year’s top teams, each amply financed by big corporate R&D, the UW team operated on a shoestring.

Not this year.

Charles Hale, a senior studying accounting and finance at Foster, saw to it. When his roommate was an engineering lead on the project three years ago, he joined to provide some business support. But he says the Foster contingent worked too independently of the engineering teams to make a significant impact.

So this time around, he recruited a larger team of Foster students, including Will Oaks, Dom Gorecki, Emma Xia, Luke Cantor, Ben Barton and Nicholas Wood, who took over the lead role.

Each of the business team was embedded with one engineering sub-team and worked toward clear objectives and deadlines. “The business team was substantially more involved with the team as a whole this year,” Hale says. “This helped motivate members to devote the time needed to successfully market Washington Hyperloop to potential sponsors, leading to this year’s fundraising success.”

The Foster team has tirelessly negotiated discounts and donations of parts and resources. And they’ve tripled investment, raising $100,000 from more corporate partners than you could fit on the canopy of a NASCAR, among them Boeing, 3M, Siemens, MathWorks, General Plastics, Scorpion Motors, Solvay and a few less obvious ones like Tacos Chukis and Pagliacci Pizza (students gotta eat). Even the Foster School has provided financial support.

“Just as in any design firm, we are limited by our resources,” says Nicole Lambert, a UW engineering senior and director of Washington Hyperloop. “Without our business team we wouldn’t have the funds to build an award-winning pod.”

This year, they’re aiming for the biggest award. That means top speed. The boom in resources has helped the engineering team build a lean racer that weighs just 60 percent of last year’s entry. And Hale thinks Washington Hyperloop can hit a blazing 260-300 mph when they run their pod through the mile-long “Hypertube” at SpaceX HQ this July.

Win or lose, the experience is certainly one-of-a-kind. “As an engineer, it’s been amazing to work with a fully integrated business team,” Lambert says.

“This project really functions as a startup,” adds Wood, the business lead. “It’s about going above and beyond expectations and finding ways to apply your specific skill set to benefit the team. That’s the coolest part of this experience. What you put in is what you get out.”