By Daniel Zika
For The Diamondback
About 54 undergraduate students at the University of Maryland are building a tunnel boring machine to compete in The Boring Company’s Not-A-Boring Competition, which challenges engineers from around the world to create a tunnel digging machine.
The students make up UMD Loop, a team that was selected this past month out of nearly 400 applicants to participate in the competition.
The team is going up against eleven other groups, most of whom have resources such as more funding and team members with Master’s degrees and doctorates, said Noah Ryder, an adviser to the team and professor and researcher within the fire protection engineering department at this university.
“What our entirely undergraduate team has done is pretty amazing,” Ryder said. “The students that have contributed to it and make up the team are really top notch, so I’m ecstatic.”
Although the official competition date hasn’t been announced, the team is planning for sometime in July.
The competition requires the machine to dig a tunnel about 100 feet long, two feet in diameter and six feet deep. Part of the goal is also to create a machine that minimizes the cost of digging tunnels, since cost is one of the largest barriers a project like this faces.
UMD Loop was started about five years ago, said Matthew Braun, the team’s financial lead and a senior in the business school.
Over the past few years, the team has been successful, with several graduated team members hired by companies such as SpaceX, Tesla and NASA.
Since its inception, the team has competed all four times in SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod competition, a brainchild of Elon Musk that was held between 2015 and 2019. The pod competition challenged participants to design a machine meant to carry people through pressurized hyperloop tunnels at high speeds.
Last spring was the first year since the team’s creation that, due to COVID, there wasn’t a pod competition. But the team kept itself busy, Braun said, finding ways to improve its pod designs and entering a few smaller competitions.
During the summer, The Boring Company, an affiliate of SpaceX and another of Musk’s companies, announced it would be holding a tunnel boring competition instead of another pod competition.
On the last day of August, the team learned it had gotten through the preliminary stage of the design approval process and they were now tasked with actualizing the design of the machine.
Over the coming months, they created a 120-page design, said Nil Patel, the team’s chief engineer and a senior aerospace engineering major.
“We did a lot of work between September and January, more than anyone’s classwork,” Patel said.
The competition will be held in the Mojave Desert, Patel said, and the machines must be able to dig in a number of different soil types.
The team submitted its design on Jan. 17.
Ritwika Das, a junior computer science major and the team’s software lead, has been working to write the software in charge of controlling the machine.
“This [tunnel boring machine] competition was very new to all of us. Almost no one on the team had any experience with it,” Das said. “We were able to learn and then design the system. And then, to be able to actually get into a competition was really exciting.”
Other parts of the team include electrical, skeleton, hydraulics and thermal, excavation and tunnel support.
Currently, the team is working to reach its fundraising goals, Braun said, and is hoping to find more local sponsors and donors to help them build a winning machine.
The Loop team’s executive board had only good things to say about the work its team had done and its chances in the competition.
“I want to stress that I’m incredibly proud of the team,” Patel said. “We’re one of 12 teams in the world that made it, and we’re competing with teams that have a lot more money than us. Proud to be from Maryland.”