Advancing the Sustainable Mobility of Tomorrow

Advancing the Sustainable Mobility of Tomorrow with TransPod

Discover how TransPod is revolutionizing green mobility and how startups can integrate sustainable design practices in their product development.


Designing Impactful Innovation podcast - episode 5

TransPod designs and develops a new generation of ultra-high-speed ground transportation with 100% electric vactrain systems inspired by Hyperloop technology.

In this episode, Sébastien Gendron, co-founder and CEO of Canadian startup TransPod, and Iván Cabañas, EMEA Online Industry Process consultant at Dassault Systèmes, discuss the challenges of developing sustainable mobility alternatives. Learn more about TransPod and how the 3DEXPERIENCE platform supports the startups that are creating the transportation alternatives of tomorrow.

Advancing the Sustainable Mobility of Tomorrow

Meet our speakers

Transpod-Sebastian Gendron
Sébastien Gendron
Co-founder and CEO, TransPod
Iván Cabañas
Iván Cabañas
EMEA Online Industry Process Consultant, Dassault Systèmes

As we plan to build those infrastructures, we're going to emit carbon and we have to reduce that as much as we can by developing a local supply chain, making sure that steel tubes won't come from the other side of the world, and then trying to source it locally.

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Read the transcript

Clara : Hello and welcome to the Designing Impactful Innovation podcast. I’m your host, Clara and today I’m joined by Sébastien Gendron, co-founder and CEO of Canadian startup TransPod, and Iván Cabañas, EMEA Online Industry Process Consultant at Dassault Systèmes. Founded in 2015, TransPod designs and develops a new generation of ultra-high-speed ground transportation with vactrain systems capable of reaching 1,200 km per hour.

Sébastien: Yeah. Hello, Clara. Thanks for inviting us. And yeah, happy to share a few words about myself. So my name is Sébastien Gendron, I'm CEO and co-founder of TransPod. So it's a Canadian company we created in 2015 to develop a new mode of transportation.

Before that I used to work – so I'm an engineer by background, consider myself more industrial engineer, good at building stuff, not good at inventing stuff. So, for TransPod I have my associate who’s kind of the brain of the company, Ryan, inventing all of it and trying to execute that. And before that, I worked in the aerospace sector: Airbus, Bombardier, Safran and so on. And personally I'm not a good employee. And so at some point I decided that the best way to have fun in life was to start a company. So that's what we started to do with TransPod.

Clara: Awesome. Iván, what about you?

Ivan: Yes, so my name is Iván Cabañas. I work as an industry process consultant for Dassault Systèmes. My background is also in aerospace engineering and also, I would say in simulation design and simulation topics, which are the main type of tools and programs I've worked with in my previous experiences. And right now in Dassault Systèmes, I help startups develop and scale all around Europe, Middle East, Africa, and they bring very disruptive technologies to the market such as TransPod, which I would say is one of the most disruptive right now. And yeah, that's a little bit about myself.

Clara: Great.

Sébastien: I mean, there's a the key role in that. As you may know, existing modes of transportation are bad and emitting carbon. And so we have to develop new solutions to address this challenge and being able to move as quickly as we do it today.

So it's a fully electric system, similar than trains. And without that, it would have been kind of pointless to develop a new mode of transportation. So that's kind of the key item we've looked at.

And in addition to that, there's also other environmental benefits. We're looking at an elevated structure. So just for the audience, we're looking at a tube transportation system, or Hyperloop for those who are familiar with that, which consists of having vehicles traveling in a tube – steel tube – where you have removed most of the air.

And this is the basic idea of this concept, which is more than 100 years old. And by removing most of the air, you allow each vehicle to avoid aerodynamic friction, and in theory, achieve the same speed as an aircraft or even faster. And the beauty of it is that since you're dealing with a low pressure environment – to come back on those environmental benefits – the noise level is way lower than any train or aircraft. And so for the wildlife and the surroundings, it's way better. So that's one one key element.

The second one is, it's an elevated structure. So, steel tubes on concrete pillars, and it allows the wildlife and the farmers to continue to do their life. So the wildlife can go back and forth below the infrastructure and farmers can operate the farm the same way they've done it. So it's not cutting the landscape into pieces. And I can tell you that when you're dealing with land acquisition and so on, it's definitely something people appreciate.

And then the last one is definitely fully electric. On top of the infrastructure, we plan to install solar panels. Even if the infrastructure will still need to be connected to the electrical grid, solar panels on the infrastructure could get us back what, 30% of the energy we will need.

Now, having said that, it's not like a blue sky scenario. We have some challenges we must address, if we want to be truly environmentally friendly. And one of them is the carbon footprint of the infrastructure as when you – anyway, as we plan to build those infrastructures, we're going to emit carbon and we have to reduce that as much as we can by developing a local supply chain, making sure that steel tubes won't come from the other side of the world, and then trying to source it locally.

So there's going to be challenges to make sure that from a cost standpoint it's quite good. Same for concrete. So we're looking at every solution to reduce the carbon footprint of the infrastructure.

And last point, visually speaking, especially in Europe, having a tube on concrete pillars like a big pipeline, it's not like there's a visual pollution associated to that. So we’re working with architects right now to make it pretty, to make sure that it's well integrated into any landscape. And that's kind of the challenges.

So even if on paper that's a system which is interesting, which can really complement existing solutions without emitting CO2, there's still like, during the construction, reducing the carbon footprint as much as we can and making sure that it's a nice infrastructure, appealing to see and not ugly stuff in the middle of the countryside.

Clara: Yeah, so it's really interesting that you're also working to make sure that the construction process and the materials are also sustainable.

Sebastien : And it's not easy. Yeah.

Iván: Yes, so there are different ways in which Dassault can contribute to the sustainability model of companies worldwide. The first one that comes to mind would be, of course, the use of what we call the virtual twins, which is the capability to be able to represent with full detail a physical asset, a real life product in the virtual world.

So first of all, being able to fully design that product in the virtual world and try out different design iterations, design configurations, then also the possibility to be able to simulate that virtual twin within the different scenarios that the product will have to endure in its full lifecycle. And not only thinking about the product but also thinking about the manufacturing that can come later on, so we can bring solutions to the market focusing on digital manufacturing, being able to fully represent the different processes involved in the manufacturing process and also being able to represent a fully virtual twin of the whole factory, the different people working on the product and being able to calculate how much waste is being generated in each one of the individual manufacturing processes. So that would be one aspect of how we use our platform to increase sustainability in the final product.

The second one is the capability for engineers to be able to collaborate on what we call a single source of truth or a unique set of data which can be located in a cloud server and they can all connect and collaborate from remote parts of the world on that same amount of data.

And so we are able to reduce the amount of unnecessary travel and unnecessary movements of engineers between sites because they can do everything that they would typically do within the office, but now on this new cloud platform, which is always available 24/7 for them.

And finally, thinking more precisely about the sustainability topic, we also have some solutions in place in our platform which are for sustainability management. So for all the program managers or sustainability managers of the project, they can have a full traceability and a full view on the amount of carbon, the carbon footprint of its product and the amount of environmental impact that their product will have. And this goes all the way from the extraction of the raw materials until the actual final disposal of the product. So I would say there are several solutions that we can bring to our clients for them to really bring sustainability to a next level.

Clara: Thank you Iván.

Sébastien: So there's many aspects to that. So first of all, one key element is that you need to surround yourself with people smarter than you. And it's not always easy. First of all to find the right talent, and have the ability to admit that when you recruit people you need them to address challenges…you can't have them internally…or you don't have the capabilities internally. When you recruit – or when we recruit someone, we’re crystal clear with them, saying that they're here to solve problems, we don't have the solution to yet. And so we want to make sure that they don't expect us to tell them what to do. Of course, we give them the framework and so on. But we really need smart people. So that's one aspect.

The other aspect – and as Iván mentioned, I think in one of the questions before – we need to surround ourselves with strong partners, strong aerospace partners, because it's an aircraft without wings, what we're developing, and we don't want to reinvent the wheel and lose time.

So not only partnering with companies like Dassault, which can provide solutions to fast track development, but also with industrial players, which can bring existing expertise of what's already been developed.

I'll use an example: as I mentioned before, it's an aircraft without wings so we'll need a fuselage. And being able to partner with companies who already have the expertise to build aircraft fuselage will help us to speed up the process rather than us learning again from scratch how to do that kind of equipment or techniques. So that's one aspect.

And then talking about make-or-buy solutions, there is definitely some key technology we're doing internally, key intellectual property, we're doing that. This is our core solution on some critical subsystems. And then yeah, to buy equipment from aerospace-based manufacturers and do the entire R&D development with solutions like Dassault.

And one last thing, as we’re scaling up as we speak, it's to make sure that we have the right processes when it comes to HR, accounting… And so one of the key actions we're working on right now is the implementation of an ERP system.

So ERP systems for those who aren’t familiar with that: we’re talking about IT solutions like SAP or Netsuite was one I think by Oracle, and it's really to allow the integration of all the different solutions to succeed, to make sure that processes are well in place and robust to scale up and develop the product we’re doing.

Iván: There are many ways that our 3DEXPERIENCE platform can help customers, and what we typically try to do with each one of our customers is first go through a series of what we call discovery sessions to really understand what are their use cases and their current pain points that we need to solve. After that, we typically lay out a roadmap to be able to work with them in the future with different levels of priority. And so each customer and each company is a world in its own.

But I would say if we look at our tools, the first one that comes to mind would be, of course, the better collaboration with all the stakeholders. So being able to fully bring all the different teams, not only internal teams, but also external stakeholders, suppliers, clients and different partners into your platform so they can visualize the same amount of data, the same models, the same engineering documents that your teams are working with.

And then everybody can collaborate on the same level of data and create what we call the single source of truth, which is the ability to always be working on the latest revision and avoid duplicate data, reworks or miscommunication errors, which can really harm an engineering process – an engineering project, sorry –  and delay its deadlines or milestones.

The second aspect we try to bring to our companies is powerful design and engineering tools for market to your portfolio. So, tools that allow the engineers to fully design their system from a mechanical point of view, electrical point of view, of the system's architecture. Being able to have also a traceability of their whole engineering product through what we call the engineering bill of materials, and then doing, of course, other tasks related more with the project such as project management, issue management, change management or approval routes that can be set up within the platform. And all of these different tools are integrated into a single platform which makes the life of engineers much more easier to work with than having all these different segregated tools.

The third aspect I would say is also important: Dassault Systèmes has worked a lot in the last few years to bring very advanced design and engineer workflows – and we like to call them ModSim workflows – where the engineers can connect their design to a simulation model and then connect that simulation model to an artificial intelligence engine which will be able to try out different configurations of the model, generate different outputs, different physical results, and bring a lot more data to the engineer for them to choose the right tradeoff between all their necessary requirements, such as weight cost, deflection, stresses, etc...

And the last aspect, if we think of the later stages of the project, is also being able to support the downstream processes of the project. So everything related to manufacturing, being able to fully develop your manufacturing bill of materials on the platform, connect that with your engineering bill of materials and make sure that there's no errors or redundancies.

And then as I mentioned earlier, being able as well to create a full virtual twin, either of your individual processes or a full factory layout where you can test your production before you even actually build the factory itself. So yeah, I would say there's many points in there, but those are just a few critical ones.

Sébastien: Yeah, thank you Iván. This is one of the main reasons we’re pleased to work with Dassault. We need all those tools. If I may complement what you just said as well, is that it's critical to be able to have the same level of information for people working across the globe, being able to work on the same digital mockup, it's a must.

And then, talking about also the product life management cycle, you know, what we're looking for moving forward is definitely being able to integrate some supply databases directly to the models so engineers can select the different suppliers to manufacture all the parts we’re designing as we speak. So all of that, are definitely needed to succeed nowadays.

Clara: So all in all, a lot of different tools from upstream to downstream and from design to manufacturing.

Sébastien: So, I'll start on that. What you need to have – first of all, I think people should not be afraid to start companies building hardware. We've seen many initiatives of companies building software. And there's one simple reason behind that: to attract investment, it's easier if you're a software company. But the most interesting part is definitely hardware.

So I would encourage that, even if from a financing aspect it's more difficult, but it's also more fulfilling. So people should jump on that.

And then about advice to start the company: I would say you have different ways of doing it or “skinning the cat”, I would say.

You have to create value too as well, right away. You need to differentiate yourself from the crowd. If you want to start a company, you must be different from what already exists today on the market. And in order to do that and also to attract investment, you need to create – for a hardware company – you need to create intellectual property.

And it's not that difficult and not that expensive – only finding a provisional application for a patent. That is something you can do right away. And if you have a good idea, there's a bit of work. It costs, I think, less than 2,000 euros or dollars to file it. And then you will have a right to some initial value you can showcase to attract investment. So that's one key aspect.

And the other recommendation I would provide is to make sure that your lifestyle is manageable in a way that either you start the company right after school where you can still live with your parents, where you don't have any rent to pay or food to cover, so you can focus 100% on your company. Or if you have been working already for a few years and you have a regular job not to quit your job because this is kind of what helps you to pay the bills at the end of the month and your job may still be interesting. But if you have an idea in mind, test it, try it, work on it during evenings, during weekends, until you can secure some initial funding before quitting your existing job. So that's one aspect.

And the last one I would say, entrepreneurs, it's nice you earn your freedom, but again, freedom is – I mean you're free, but you earn it. And freedom is not free. And so if you are by nature a bit anxious I would say don't do it. This is a good job for people who don't like, I would say, authority, or are not stressed easily. Then that could be a good fit for you.

So yeah, those are kind of three main aspects I would look at before starting a company: creating value, making sure that you have a plan moving forward from a financial standpoint, and don't be anxious because it's kind of a rollercoaster.

And cash is king. You need to make sure you can pay the bills, otherwise you'll go bankrupt and it's another avenue at the end of the day, and pretty stressful.

Iván: Yeah. And maybe I can just add a few more points, even though I think Sébastien mentioned all the other critical aspects of a successful startup. Maybe what we can say from our side and also working with other startups in the ecosystem is that some of the critical aspects to take into account in the very early stages of the project – and when the engineering teams are still in the product definition – is to be able to use the right engineering methodologies before you even start working on the actual 3D models or digital mockups.

So there are different engineering approaches, but one that's been on the market for many years is model-based systems engineering and it's a methodology which allows you to avoid errors and reworks in the later stages of your project, but also have a better definition and understanding of your product requirements in the very early stages. And it will allow you to basically avoid all these mistakes later on in the project, which will cause your milestones to glide over time and to delay themselves.

The second aspect, I think would be: give engineers the right tools for them to be able to design a fully virtual twin or digital twin of their physical product and test it in a virtual environment. This will create a lot of opportunities to identify better design solutions, better possibilities, tradeoffs that the engineers would not have thought about earlier on, and also reduce the cost and reduce the amount of work once we go into manufacturing and prototyping.

And I think another aspect that Sébastien you mentioned was the whole aspect of capturing funding, which is also something we didn't mention too much. But there are tools as well within our portfolio which focus on all the marketing aspects and visualization aspects of the product. So being able to create all these real-life images and videos of your product so you can really capture the interest of private investors or venture capitalists.

And the last one I would say is find the right technological partners for your product and for your industry. Whenever you partner up with a technology company, try to look for their proven expertise within the field, try to see if they've worked in the past with similar customers, and the more history, the more knowledge they have of that industry will allow you to really get a lot of benefit from that partnership. So, try to look for companies who already have a proven track record in that sense.

Clara: Well, those were some really interesting points.

Sébastien: Oh, many things! So it's been seven years and I think we’re around the corner where we've passed the financial challenges. And so moving forward we will have other challenges. More interesting ones like HR, scaling up the company and so on.

And to follow on the funding announcement we had last year for the infrastructure project in Alberta on the west side of Canada, where we announced the financing to build the first phase – so we’re talking about a ten kilometer track to connect the airport of Edmonton – and this is the first phase of a bigger project to connect Edmonton to Calgary, so it's a 200 kilometer line, so we’re going step by step.

So this year we’re finalizing the project financing around that: so construction permit, land acquisition. We have also the detailed infrastructure cost to do, with the objective to kick off construction spring 2024, then two years of construction until 2026, then we'll have two years of testing until 2028. Testing with the goal to achieve certification from the local authorities by 2028. What I mean by certification is really the ability to demonstrate that what we're doing is safe to transport passengers and goods. And then as soon as we achieve that, it's going to give us the green light to build the remaining two 90 kilometers to connect Edmonton to Calgary. So that's the focus we have on that side of Canada.

We're also developing a potential line in Texas. We have good discussions as of today in Saudi Arabia and Australia. And in parallel we have to develop the technology, so the full scale vehicle, so the FluxJet and this is where all the tools from Dassault will be pretty handy and we need to have a full scale vehicle ready before the infrastructure. So by the time the first phase of the infrastructure in Alberta is ready, so by 2026, so we can start testing it and demonstrate that it's, again, safe for passengers and goods. So lots of things moving forward. It's not going to be the last podcast for sure.

Clara: Well, some exciting new projects then! Well, it was great having you both on the podcast, Sébastien and Iván, thank you so much for answering our questions today.

Sébastien: Thanks a lot. Was a pleasure.

Iván: Thank you.

Clara: Thank you for listening to Designing Impactful Innovation. To find out more, go to Don't forget to subscribe for more insights and stories from our guest experts!

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