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Hyperloop at VCU heading home after strong showing at SpaceX

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VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., in blue, flanked by Hyperloop at VCU members. (Photo by Kendra Gerlach, VCU Engineering Marketing & Communications)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. - Starting with more than 600 entries from more than 40 countries, the 2018 SpaceX Hyperloop competition came to an end Sunday when just three of the 20 finalists were selected to race their pod vehicles in the near-vacuum tube at SpaceX global headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Though they were not one of those teams, Hyperloop at VCU — a team of engineering, business, government and arts students from Virginia Commonwealth University — had a remarkable showing during its first year competing in the international contest to design and build the best pod for Hyperloop, a high-speed ground transport concept by SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

VCU and other finalists displayed their pods in tents lining Jack Northrup Avenue on Sunday, creating a festival-like setting with a grandstand positioned near the entrance of the race tube and about 2,000 people in attendance. Musk stopped at several tents to talk to teams about their designs.

Two-time reigning speed champion WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich once again earned top place with a pod speed of 290 mph. Delft University’s Delft Hyperloop and Switzerland’s EPFLoop finished second and third, respectively.

Competing against many teams that had reached the finals twice previously, Hyperloop at VCU, one of just nine teams from the United States to reach the finals, passed many tests during a week of pre-race safety and performance checks.

“They’ve stayed focused, grinding it through, addressing issues,” said their faculty adviser L. Franklin Bost, executive associate dean for innovation and outreach in the VCU College of Engineering. “It reminds me a bit of the pits in an auto race where all the teams are still working on their vehicles.”

“Some teams pulled out early and the VCU team continued working. They’ve made it through many, many of the qualifications,” Bost said.

“I think most people feel like they’ve tried their hardest, because they have,” said Hyperloop at VCU President Arthur Chadwick. “They’ve been pushing really hard, even harder than they had to [in order to] catch up to these multiple-year teams.”

Chadwick said not only is he proud of the team’s performance, he’s also proud of the growth among team members and the way they work with each other.

“It’s nice seeing people interacting with each other on their own, following up and pushing themselves,” he said. “People are becoming more intrinsically motivated because they know what they’re doing and see their potential for next year.”

“This is an amazing group of students,” Bost added. “They are dedicated in representing VCU and are doing the absolute best they can in this competition.”

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., his family and several team sponsors attended the competition. Rao said he is proud of the students for what they accomplished since Hyperloop at VCU launched in September 2017.

“I think you’ve taken VCU to the next level,” he said. “Look at the company you’re in here. You guys continue to elevate VCU.”

Rao said the students are “absolutely at the top” in terms of their ability to function as a large team, in their mechanical engineering skills and their business skills. Now with a full year to incorporate all they’ve learned from this competition and to plan for the next one, Rao said he is “excited about all the future years.”

Tired and slightly sunburned from a week of nearly round-the-clock effort, Hyperloop at VCU now returns to Richmond, heads held high after an amazing journey.

“I’m proud of them,” Rao said. “I’ve learned so much from them. They are filled with so much optimism and positive energy, talking about what we can do.”