High school students tackle the Hyperloop Pod Competition: Andrew Awad

Andrew Awad is a 17 year old senior from St. John’s School in Houston, TX and the founder and team captain of HyperLift, one of just 30 teams, and the only high school team, in the world advancing to the Hyperloop Pod Competition finals in January 2017. Team HypeLift is comprised of six highly devoted individuals: Andrew Awad, Elizabeth Awad, Jonathan Bloom, Katie Malcolm, Michal He, and Robert Gottschalk, who want to help change the future of transportation!  You can follow Team Hyperlift on Twitter and Instagram @teamhyperlift

Please tell us about the Hyperloop Pod Competition and your team’s journey to the challenge finals.
Hyperloop is a concept proposed by Elon Musk and SpaceX for a new form of pneumatic tube transportation that would allow people to travel long distances quickly and safely.  The Hyperloop Pod Competition is to design and build a ½ scale prototype to travel at speeds of up to 200 mph in a vacuum tube. There were over 1200 initial applicants into the competition. After five initial cuts, SpaceX selected 126 engineering teams, including our team, to advance to the Design Weekend at Texas A&M. There, we presented our designs to university professors and SpaceX and Tesla engineers and displayed our hard work to potential sponsors and the general public. After the event, we were selected to advance to the Competition Weekend Finals where we will race our Hyperloop prototype.

Your team is the only High School team competing in the Hyperloop Pod Competition, going head-to-head with students from prestigious universities.  How did you become interested in the challenge and what sets your team apart?
I first heard of Elon Musk's Hyperloop in 2013 when he released his white paper. I was very excited by the possibility of a transportation revolution. Two years later, while looking for a computer science internship at SpaceX and Tesla, I stumbled across the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. The competition was geared towards college, graduate, and independent engineering teams. While there were no apparent ways for me to enter the competition, I created an independent entity, HyperLift, and recruited five of my peers, who each have very unique talents, to embark on this journey with me. Other than being the smallest and youngest team to advance to the Competition Weekend Finals this January, we feel that our work ethic and our desire to constantly challenge ourselves to find the best solution sets us apart.

What are your design goals for your Hyperloop pod?  What tools are you and your team using to design your pod and how has using those tools helped you achieve your design goals?
Our goal at HyperLift is to design the fastest, safest and most efficient pod. We have focused on creating a lightweight and modular pod using Fusion 360 and AutoCAD. We have gone through many design iterations of our pod, and the versatility of these products have greatly improved our workflow. We started using the software primarily for structural design; however, as we progressed into the build stage of the competition, we began relying on the CAM and simulation features much more. Without these tools, we would not be where we are today. 

One of the main goals of the Hyperloop Challenge is to design a new, highly sustainable form of transportation.  What sustainable design principles is your team using in your design?  How has using Autodesk tools helped you with sustainable design?
We have focused heavily on creating a sustainable prototype design that we believe can be scaled. Not only are we incorporating recycled materials in our pod, but we also designed our pod with material efficiency and its lifecycle in mind. We have incorporated recycled carbon fiber in our pod to effectively increase the strength of our structural components without creating excess waste. Additionally, when we water jetted the metal components of our pod, we used the “scrap” material on the inside of our frame to construct our undercarriage. Using the water jetting CAM tool in Fusion 360, we were able to ensure that there were no interferences with our metal pieces before we sent our designs off to our manufacturer. Finally, we have created a completely modular pod that is easily repairable and adaptable for multiple uses. 

waterjet pieces  v2.png
Waterjet pieces for the Hyperloop Pod.  Team HyperLift is using the scrap from manufacturing in other parts of their pod to decrease their environmental impact and costs.

You’re in the midst of building a prototype of your design. How is it being made, and how have resource constraints informed your approach to its design and fabrication?
Throughout this process, we have had to teach ourselves everything from CAD modeling and simulation to the extensive physics calculations behind each component of our pod. After the Design Weekend, we were one of the most under-resourced teams advancing to the build phase of the competition; this forced us to come up with creative solutions to expensive problems. As mentioned earlier, our modular approach and material efficiency has allowed us to save money while also benefiting the environment. Additionally out of financial necessity, we came up with a creative way to determine our pod’s position in the vacuum tube, which allows us to brake more reliably and at ⅕ the cost than the other teams are implementing. While we have raised additional resources from our generous sponsors, we have continued to embrace the same creative mindset to come up with innovative solutions at a lower cost.

What most excites you about the Hyperloop Challenge and the possibility of Hyperloop as a technology?  Do you think we’ll ever see Hyperloop come to life?
What excites me most about the Hyperloop Challenge is the potential to disrupt the future of transportation. We will be able to travel faster, safer, and more efficiently than the current standard while also leaving a positive impact in the fight against climate change. I see a full-scale Hyperloop test occurring in 5 years and a fully-functional Hyperloop system in 10. 

I hope the work that we do can help expedite this process and turn this dream into a reality. 

Are there any other design projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with us? 
At the moment, I am very focused on the Hyperloop Project but will definitely implement Autodesk tools whenever an opportunity arises.  

What are your plans for the future?
I am very interested in studying computer science in college and pursuing my entrepreneurial ventures; I am currently balancing writing college essays and filling out college apps with constructing a prototype pod. Through this competition, I have gained invaluable leadership skills that I know I will implement in my future endeavors to try to better the world we live in. I might even create a Hyperloop startup one day.

Get started with Fusion 360 and design your own Hyperloop pod.