The Next Mode of Transportation Won’t Go Anywhere Without Simulation

The TransPod FluxJet could set off a mobility revolution—but how do you build a first prototype?

Dassault Systèmes has sponsored this post.

(Image courtesy of TransPod.)

(Image courtesy of TransPod.)

Planes, trains and automobiles: every new mode of transportation has revolutionized how people and goods travel the world. Today, a new mode is on the cusp of inciting what could be another revolution: TransPod. This startup is hoping to push it over the edge—with a little help from simulation.

“It’s time to improve.”

Founded in 2015, Toronto-based TransPod is developing an ultra-high-speed ground transportation system based on its fully electric pod, the FluxJet. The company describes it as an aircraft-train hybrid that could represent a pathway towards a decarbonized, sustainable transportation future.

TransPod says that the FluxJet can travel at over 620 miles per hour, faster than a jet and three times as fast as high-speed trains. The company plans to operate FluxJet on a station network with locations in major cities and recently garnered $550 million for the next phase of an $18 billion infrastructure project connecting the cities of Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta, Canada. The company expects the transit line to reduce 636,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

The technology could replace the current rail systems, which are struggling economically in North America.

“It’s time to improve. The passenger railway companies are struggling to be profitable. They’re using technology that’s been around for more than 50 years,” said Sebastian Gendron, CEO of TransPod, in the latest episode of Designing the Future. Gendron spoke to’s Jim Anderton along with Ivan Cabañas, Dassault Systèmes’ Industry Process Consultant, on the role software is playing in getting the future of transportation off the ground.

How software is enabling the transportation revolution

There are challenges to be overcome before the TransPod FluxJet becomes a reality. One challenge concerns powering the vehicles, and for that TransPod found a clever solution.

“We realized that the air is conducting electricity at low pressure,” said Gendron. “We were able to demonstrate that by creating an electrical arc in the tube between the power rail and the vehicle, we could transmit up to 6,000 volts and 700 amps.”

Another big challenge is the cost of building the infrastructure required for the TransPod system. The tube transportation concept comes from removing 99 percent of the air in the tube, which requires vacuum-sealed tubes that must be built to a high standard.

Creating de-pressurized systems comes at a steep cost. Gendron said that improvements in vacuum pumps over the past 20 years have made them considerably more energy efficient and similar systems are used by CERN in Switzerland.

Like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, TransPod’s FluxJet and the required infrastructure isn’t easy to prototype. Its real-world performance, which involves traveling over hundreds of miles, cannot easily be determined. That’s where software comes in, and TransPod uses Dassault Systèmes’ simulation technology.

“The idea with simulation driven design is that your product or your system has to endure several sorts of use cases or sets of certain loads within its useful lifecycle,” said Cabañas. “If you can monitor and reproduce those use cases in a virtual world before you actually produce the physical prototype, you’ll save a lot of time, costs and resources.”

(Image courtesy of TransPod.)

(Image courtesy of TransPod.)

Simulating the FluxJet

Cabañas said the process begins by creating a digital mockup of the product on a cloud system for collaboration and sharing the virtual representation of the asset with stakeholders. Then design teams can simulate and virtually test their product for all the different real world use cases that it will encounter.

“The idea is to be able to reproduce all of those physical tests in a virtual environment so that we can make sure that they’re designed to withstand the necessary loads before we actually move to any type of production or real-life testing,” Cabañas explained.

The TransPod FluxJet is a very complex system to simulate, as there are multiple processes happening at once. There are electrical loads, magnetic fields, tunnels and pressure vessels. The complexity means that the simulation process requires multi-disciplinary teams to create 3D digital mockups in a collaborative fashion. Such digital collaboration is vital for companies like TransPod with teams located in multiple countries.

“We must have a common kind of tool in order to share, to make sure that everyone has the same level of information,” said Gendron.

Cabañas explained that product lifecycle management tools on the cloud, can help teams manage project traceability with the ultimate goal of having a single source of truth that all team members can access, and adhere to. All this must be done with different layers of security to ensure IP protection and that no data is corrupted in the process.

“Every time you do an action on the platform, whether it’s a task, a design review, a design change or maybe a new simulation—anything you do has a level of traceability that you can store and later on identify, and that’s very critical,” said Gendron. “We believe that it’s much safer and secure to have a single database environment in the cloud than to have specific folders in your own local infrastructure.”

The future begins in Alberta

Following its inception in 2015, TransPod has been working for the last seven years to get FluxJet off the ground. Gendron expects that there will be another decade of effort ahead to get the first line operational, which will involve two years of full-scale testing between 2026 and 2028. Construction is expected to start on the first segment of the line in Alberta in 2024.

To learn more about TransPod and the engineering challenges involved in building a hyperloop, watch the latest episode of Designing the Future.

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