In 2013, Hyperloop was just a conceptual design released by Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX for open source development. Musk's vision of high-speed pneumatic tube transportation system isn't a new one, but his original concept proposed a route to transport people and goods running alongside I-5, making the trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 35 minutes. Today we're anticipating the first Hyperloop pod competition to help accelerate prototypes for a functional Hyperloop system.
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The most visible project to come out of the competition is Hyperloop One. The downtown Los Angeles startup is racing to build test equipment and prototypes for what could be the "fifth mode of transportation"—behind planes, trains, cars and boats. At this September's Core77 Conference on co-creation in Downtown Los Angeles, hear more about the Hyperloop One journey from concept to prototype from Chris Vasquez, director of product engineering, where he'll discuss "Engineering Design and the Evolution of Transportation." And don't forget to signup for an insider's tour of their headquarters on Friday!
Chris Vasquez, director of product engineering at Hyperloop One
We spoke to Vasquez about how Hyperloop One is marrying the first principles of engineering high technology to a truly innovative personal mobility experience, what it means to be working at the intersection of product and infrastructure and most importantly, when we will be able to ride the ride.
Core77: How did you get into the field of transportation design and engineering and why does it continue to excite you?
Chris Vasquez: By chance really. A co-worker from a previous employer founded the company and asked me to come onboard to product development. New challenges always excite. With startups you typically have a combination of great latitude to solve problems and accountability for work. It's stressful at times but definitely suits my personality.
The Hyperloop Levitation Rig is another unique test stand designed, fabricated and built by the Hyperloop team. This test stand is housed in an 18 cubic meter environmental chamber that is capable of achieving pressures down to 1/1000 of atmospheric. The rotor achieves surface speeds in excess of 300 m/s. These speeds are necessary to simulate Hyperloop's cutting edge levitation systems that will be adapted for use on the Hyperpod.
What are some of the unique challenges facing the engineers and designers working on the Hyperloop One?
Firstly, Hyperloop One is pretty unique in that our "product" is a mix of technology and infrastructure. How you define, design and develop products and projects in those industries is different, so that presents interesting challenges when it comes to market definition, customer identification and concept testing. The other is that we're building a completely new mode of transportation from scratch. That affords us the luxury of changing anything we want. Unfortunately that means we can change anything we want. Too many dials to turn can paralyze a team. There's a balance in finding the right amount of constraints so that engineers can make assumptions and designers can imagine concepts that are more fiction than fact.
What are some of the most successful strategies for working hand-in-hand with designers?
Trust – Bottom line: If we don't trust each other then we won't work together and we won't be honest with each other.
Clarity – Of purpose, of values. If we don't know why we exist then how will we know what we should do? If we don't know what we value then how will we know we've succeeded? If we don't know where we're going then how will we know if any step we take is moving us closer or further away.
Understanding - Know who and what you're working with. Is Sally an engineer or a designer? Is Brian a creative, an optimist, an introvert? Once we all understand who we are as individuals we, we can focus and communicate more effectively.
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As both a startup, technology and design engineering company, what have been some of the most exciting moments of the product journey?
In a startup almost everything is exciting and super special because the team is so small. We all know each other and we all play a part. Personally, it's exciting when I can share work I've been doing with our experience designers and partner firms that are helping us define the customer experience. Showing engineers how the work they're doing fits into the larger picture and conversely, showing engineers how designers are converting their tech into a meaningful experience is critical for maintaining a cooperative environment. a team, the propulsion test in Vegas this past May was incredible. The days leading up were nerve-racking and the celebration after was … in Vegas. It was powerful to see both the positive and negative reactions to that moment. "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
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When will we get to see some of the technology in action?
You've already seen our propulsion system in action this past May in Las Vegas. You'll see more integrated testing throughout the first half of next year. You'll see some of our next level concepts coming out soon!