„I was thrilled and shocked at the same time,“ recalls Leonhard Döring of the moment he read about the Munich-based Hyperloop team’s fourth victory in the SpaceX competition in California. „I was excited about the technology, but shocked that the subject was otherwise hardly considered in Germany.“ Hyperloop is a collective term for train systems that float at nearly the speed of sound through partially vacuumed tubes. „Somehow trains float in pretty much every science fiction movie, but there’s been nothing of that in reality for over 100 years.“ Without further ado, the budding engineer from Karlsruhe sat down with fellow student Olaf Dünkel to develop the idea of a new type of linear drive system. „We simply didn’t want to accept that work on such an exciting topic should be limited to a single location in Germany, namely Munich. And for that, we founded a university group in Karlsruhe.“
The innovators from mu-zero Hyperloop also proved that they can excellently represent Germany in the world at the European Hyperloop Week (EHW) in Valencia this summer. One of the competition’s major supporters, aerospace entrepreneur Richard Branson’s „Virgin Hyperloop“ company, successfully conducted the world’s first manned Hyperloop test just late last year. Although the first mu-zero prototype, which is named „Neowise“ in reference to the comet visible in the night sky in 2020, cannot yet transport passengers, it does offer an impressive range of high-tech features. Whether 3D-printed molds to reduce the cost of the aerodynamic envelope, the innovative modular architecture of the electronic system or the specially developed linear motor – the bright minds behind the student initiative have really thought of everything, despite limitations in the Corona pandemic.
No wonder, then, that mu-zero Hyperloop was able to hold its own in Valencia even against long-established teams with a greater wealth of experience and long-standing partners. The team, which sees itself as a beacon project for cross-location cooperation between the technology locations of Karlsruhe and Stuttgart, came in fourth overall against teams from the USA, India, Great Britain and Scandinavia. With their innovative motor, which physically accelerates the prototype like a roller coaster and at the same time can make it float as if by magic, the students were only beaten by the team from Zurich, which pursued a very similar concept.
At the final gala at the port of Valencia, the jury once again specifically praised mu-zero as a team that had „achieved things in one year that no one would have thought possible“ – not even the team itself, the founders admit. „When you see what you can accomplish together and then get feedback like this, suddenly the night shifts and weekends worked through last year are totally meaningless.“
When asked if the fledgling team could one day pose a threat to the Munich-based company, Olaf smiles and says, „Just like all the other pressing problems in the world, we won’t solve the challenges of realizing a true hyperloop system on our own. Even if competition inspires us, in the end only exchange and cooperation will get us there.“ By the way, the people of Munich see it the same way. With these two outstanding Hyperloop initiatives, Germany as a technology location is now well on its way to making the Transrapid successor a real success this time around.