UW Engineering Students Take on Transit of the Future

Seattle to Portland in 15 minutes? UW engineering students may make it happen

By Elaina Friedman April 14, 2017


This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Imagine traveling from Seattle to Portland in half the time it takes to get from downtown Seattle to Bellevue in rush-hour traffic. A University of Washington team of 35 engineering students is working to make this a reality with Hyperloop, a transit system that could zip Seattleites to Stumptown at up to 760 mph. In January, the UW team came in fourth in the US and sixth in the world in the first Hyperloop competition in Hawthorne, California, sponsored by SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

The pod to Portland would be 25 feet long, 5 feet high, 5 feet wide and elevated aboveground (or in other designs, underground) on straight steel tubes holding 28 people in slightly reclining seats. Some really strong permanent magnets would levitate, propel and stop the pod.

The UW team won SpaceX’s Safety Subsystem Technical Excellence Award in 2016, and placed in the top six in the Design and Build category in 2017. If the team succeeds, what would Hyperloop travel look and feel like? If you’re worried about your face falling off, fear not. “Passengers would feel similar motions to a plane accelerating for takeoff and slowing down for landing,” says mechanical engineering major David Coven, one of four UW Hyperloop team directors. “It will feel a little like flying in an airplane, but without turbulence or bumps,” says Coven’s fellow team director, electrical engineer Max Pfeiffer. “It will be unlike anything you’ve ever ridden in.”

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