ST. JOHN’S, NL -
Rafael Fernandez has always been passionate about innovation and technology.
That’s why it was a natural fit for the 23-year-old Industrial Engineering Technology student at College of the North Atlantic (CNA) to become part of this year’s Paradigm Hyperloop Pod Competition team. In fact, he is the only CNA student on the approximately 85-member team involved in the fourth installment of the SpaceX competition taking place in California this July.
The team, comprised mainly of Memorial University and Northeastern University students, has been working to develop a pod that will stand up to the demands of the competition. Approximately 40 team members will travel to Los Angeles next month where 21 teams from all over the world will be involved in intense head-to-head competition to develop a form of high-speed ground transportation. Judging is based solely on one criterion: all pods must be self-propelled and achieve maximum speed with successful deceleration (ie. without crashing).
Originally from Madrid, Spain, Fernandez moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador when he was 16. Having hailed from a family of engineers, he knew at an early age what his destiny would be. His interest was further piqued two years ago when CNA alum Mark Comeau (then part of the Hyperloop Pod team) spoke to Fernandez’s class about what his team achieved during the SpaceX competition. A week later, an information session at Memorial University and a design challenge saw Fernandez collaborate with a couple of MUN civil engineering students to design a sub-track, as per SpaceX’s specifications, which would allow the team to test the pod before heading to California.
Organizers were impressed with Fernandez’s work, and he was offered an opportunity to join this year’s SpaceX competition team. Since then, the experience has been everything he thought it would be – and more!
“This is an awesome opportunity to be there and to meet so many other people,” Fernandez said. “This whole experience is not just about the technical side. I have been able to attend a lot of conferences, events and networking sessions and making connections. I truly believe this adventure will add great value to my career.”
Fernandez’s role on the team has been to design wheels for the pod rather than maintain the previous levitation system, which the team felt added too much weight to the apparatus. Making wheels three inches in diameter that would handle the load, while travelling at 450 km/h (linear) or 33,000 rpm (centrifugal), and not experience structural damage when they hit a gap on the track is no easy feat, but Fernandez has worked tirelessly on the project.
The team has been meeting as often as possible in the Blue Water building in Conception Bay South (CBS) to manufacture, build and test the pod.
“I am so excited,” said Fernandez. “I can’t wait. It’s been rewarding to meet with other people and work on something I am so passionate about. It’s also exciting to see how far the team has come, and that we’re on our way to where we want to be.”
Aside from the competition itself, the third-year student loves the fact this event brings together many different study and trade disciplines, and also bridges the gap between university and college education.
“I am passionate about engineering, and I love learning about the technical side of things,” he noted, adding that he’s already started work towards completing his Bachelor of Technology once he finishes CNA. “It’s so great to see how a mixture of students from MUN and CNA can combine our strengths and benefit from each other’s knowledge on one project. We are all skilled and capable of doing this.”
College of the North Atlantic