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AZLoop at ASU: How about mass transit at 750 mph?

AZLoop at ASU works on proposed Hyperloop mass transit system for SpaceX.
February 21, 2017

Competing in SpaceX Hyperloop competition, squad of more than 100 students from range of majors gets ready to submit plans

A large group of students at Arizona State University has been spending every Friday night trying to figure out how to get to from Phoenix to San Diego — in about half an hour. 

Through a SpaceX competition, they’re working on a new form of proposed mass transit called “Hyperloop” that promises to hit speeds of up to 750 mph.

“Picture a plane without wings, called a pod, that resides in a steel tube,” said AZLoop team captain and project lead Lynne Nethken. “The idea is to bring down the pressure in the tube, near vacuum, significantly eliminating the atmospheric drag, allowing it to go much faster.”

The AZLoop team — more than 100 students from ASU (including Thunderbird School of Global Management), Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Northern Arizona University — meets at ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa in the hopes of creating a high-speed corridor across the Southwest. The students come from a range of majors that include mechanical engineering, robotics, physics, astrobiology, marketing and business management.  

ASU has encouraged the effort by providing dedicated lab space and funding to purchase materials for prototyping. AZLoop has received grants through the Poly Undergraduate Student Government’s Student Fee Allocation Board, and the Print and Imaging Lab worked up a gratis banner and business cards.

As part of the competition, the team recently submitted a design package for faculty review. Next, the students will get ready to present their plans before SpaceX engineers this spring.

With SpaceX approval, “we’ll have the OK to go to the build phase,” said project co-lead Josh Kosar, an undergraduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, studying robotics.

If it gets to that point, Nethken and Kosar said their team would construct a Hyperloop test track on the Poly campus.

AZLoop started last year as a project involving about a dozen students who survived a competition round that narrowed the field from about 1,300 teams to about 120.

Nethken and Kosar don’t know their competitors because SpaceX hasn’t released that information. Still, they like their chances.

“We’ve got the right team,” Kosar said. “We’ve got the right backing. We’ve got the resources. The timing is right — it’s going to happen.”

Below: Watch a video of one key component of the Hyperloop system. 

Ken Fagan

Videographer , ASU News


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Twyst bag lets you skip checkout line

ASU's Avnet Innovation Lab offers space, expertise to startups such as Twyst.
February 21, 2017

ASU innovation incubator helps startup create smart shopping experience that promises to revolutionize retail

You just pulled a fierce day at work, but before you get home, you need to make a quick stop at the store.

You find 2 pounds of hamburger, buns and coleslaw in under 10 minutes, then get in line behind an extreme couponer and someone paying with an out-of-state postdated check. You’re not going home any time soon. 

But Kevin Schaff wants to get you out of the store and out of that scenario — fast.

Schaff is the CEO and co-founder of Twyst, a company that has created the world’s first smart shopping experience with the help of the Avnet Innovation Lab at Arizona State University.

Here’s how it works: 

The customer picks up a smart shopping bag in an equipped store where the products are labeled with radio-frequency identification tags (those shiny stickers you usually see with books and movies).

A lightweight Bluetooth device is built into the smart bag’s base. It recognizes when an item with the radio-frequency identification tag is placed inside (or taken out). The bag is lined with mylar that blocks out other signals so when a customer passes items in the store, they’re not added to the customer’s tab.

When the customer leaves the store, it sends a signal that triggers a mobile purchase, using payment information stored in the retailer’s app. The store can then follow up with a digital receipt via email.

“It’s a pretty new concept,” Schaff said. “People definitely get it.”

The object is to provide an “easier than online” experience. Twyst aims to transform retailers into smart stores.

“It’s true Internet of Things,” Schaff said.

Retailers will be able to analyze business at a nano level. The system allows for unprecedented data collection. How many items does the customer pick up? How many do they put back? What are the price differences between what’s purchased and what’s not? 

Repricing (like markdowns and markups) can be done automatically via the radio-frequency identification chips. Inventory can be automatically calculated.

“At the end of the day, Twyst is all about analytics,” Schaff said.

There’s a huge upside for retailers beyond tracking sales patterns and inventory. For instance, should the store be configured differently? If there aren’t enough dressing rooms, people might bail rather than wait. In a large appliance store, checkout might be swift, but the wait for a product to be brought out to a customer might be long.

“We really are about eliminating wait, whether that’s a checkout or a dressing room or waiting for a runner,” Schaff said. “It’s just a better experience all around.”

Neither Schaff nor his co-founder Hayden Collins had any prior affiliation with ASU. They partnered with the university through the Avnet Innovation Lab to bring their concept to reality. They heard about the resource through a friend with an ASU connection.

A partnership between Avnet and ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the Avnet Innovation Lab is a tech startup accelerator that provides participants with monetary awards and one-on-one access to the brightest minds in technology distribution, supply chain management and next-generation technologies during a 12- to 18-month program. Participants also have access to dedicated lab space on the ASU Tempe campus.

“It was huge for us to have the two of those resources,” Schaff said. “We went from nothing to production-level hardware just about in the space of that program. It was really amazing.”

The Twyst story proves that ASU is a hub for innovation coming from anywhere, said Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Dean Kyle Squires.

“The Avnet Innovation Lab offers entrepreneurs not only funding, but also expert insight about manufacturing and supply chain processes critical to bringing technology to market,” Squires said. “This accessibility attracts technology innovators like Twyst, which previously had no connection to ASU, and further elevates the Fulton Schools' profile as a national center for innovation and entrepreneurship."

Twyst hasn’t yet gone live in any stores, though Schaff said he has been in talks. Prototypes exist, and his team does demos at retail trade shows.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News