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Cambridge University team gears up for 2011 World Solar Challenge

By

June 19, 2011

Gearing up for the 2011 World Solar Challenge (Image: Cambridge University Eco Racing)

Gearing up for the 2011 World Solar Challenge (Image: Cambridge University Eco Racing)

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The biennial World Solar Challenge is the oldest and most high profile solar car race in the world, a grueling test of endurance and innovative engineering that sees teams take part in an epic 1800 mile race across the Australian outback. In 2009, the Cambridge University team placed 14th with its Bethany solar powered vehicle after being let down by a bad battery. Now, they're almost ready to make their comeback for the October race with an updated version of Bethany - the Endeavour.

The race, which first began back in 1987, runs from Darwin to Adelaide and attracts dozens of teams from around the world, the majority from the world's best universities and technical colleges. The 2009 champions - Japan's Tokai Challenger - finished the race in 29 hours, 49 minutes at an average speed of 63 mph. This year's race has had an unprecedented number of initial entries with 40 teams from 20 countries seeking to qualify.

The Cambridge team are now wrapping up preparations for another shot at the prize with Endeavour, a sleek aluminum framed, carbon-fiber three-wheeler notable for its unusual one at the front and two at the rear configuration.

"We thought it would make it more aerodynamically efficient having one wheel at the front" Alisdair McClymont, from the Cambridge team told Wired Magazine. "We're not convinced that was the right decision to make. But we don't think it will make that big a difference."

Rather than design an entirely new vehicle for this year's race, the Cambridge team used their experience garnered from Bethany to create a new, refined version. To improve the car's reliability, they have replaced the 5-kilowatt-hour lithium-polymer batter pack with a 4-kilowatt-hour lithium-iron phosphate unit.

Gearing up for the 2011 World Solar Challenge (Image: Cambridge University Eco Racing)

Not quite six feet wide and almost 16 feet long, Endeavour is covered in a 64.5 square feet of silicon solar cells that generate as much as 1.3 kilowatts. This is enough to keep the car cruising at 43 mph for a full day, with the battery there to provide extra power if needed. The car, which weighs around 485 pounds without the driver and has a maximum speed of around 75 mph.

The vehicles that compete in the World Solar Challenge may look weird, but the technological developments behind what are basically very efficient electric cars will likely find their way into our garages in the future. Intel has contributed the computing power needed to run the fluid dynamics and other design simulations and Intel Atom processors feature in the car's on-board electronics. With an interior that can reach 130 degrees or more, and high vibration level of the vehicle, they believe it's a good test of the technology.

The key to success in the race comes down to a well-considered strategy, close reading of the weather and efficient balance of energy and power consumption. Each team has at least two drivers who perform four-hour shifts and driving time is between 8am and 5pm. Cambridge drivers will undergo months of training to cope with the intense heat of the Australian sun and unique seating position.

Beyond hoping to win this year's race, and like most other contenders, the Cambridge team are keen to capture the imagination of the public with their ideas and to drive positive change towards a low carbon future.

The Cambridge University Eco Racing team discusses the challenge of crossing Australia on solar power in the video below.

For more info see the World Solar Challenge.

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema.   All articles by Bridget Borgobello
5 Comments

Just a thought.......

OK so they are making solar powered tissue paper pencil cases on wheels.

Any idiot can do that.

They are merely incremental refinements of a school project pizza box with a solar cells and a motor - that no one in the real world can use as day to day transport.

When are the organisers going to raise the raise the bar and mandate that the cars must be practical real world models, that can seat say two and four people - with the addition of a (mobile) "car port" solar base station for backup - like what one would get at home?

Solar cells on the car and solar cells on a home base power station.

This transport system should have been on the road for the average consumer at least 5 years ago.

The whole thing is a wank-fest.

Mr Stiffy
19th June, 2011 @ 06:47 pm PDT

@mr. stuffy

Bah humbug to you,too!

These WERE on the road over a hundred years ago-

before people like you bah humbugged them to death....

Griffin
20th June, 2011 @ 07:09 am PDT

Mr Stiffy: Right you are, mate. I wondered why they switch off drivers every four hours. A 9 hour drive time can easily be done by one. Can they afford to lose the time? The winner last time averaged 63 so why did it take almost 30 hours instead of 28.57?

The Endeavour seems a bit heavy, relatively. And what is the drag? How could the reporter leave that out? Weight and drag are the two most important factors. I keep saying this but the reporters continue to leave it out. Do they read the comments?

voluntaryist
20th June, 2011 @ 09:28 am PDT

@ Griffin,

Mr. Stiffy is just saying that these races are not as relevant to real world driving as they could and should be. There's no doubt that much of the tech developed for the races will eventually make it's way into cars for average people. However, it'd be more obvious that they are still a million miles from making real cars if they were required to run them in the races. Mr. Stiffy is not against solar electric cars, he said they should have been available to the average driver 5 years ago. On the other hand, I am far more skeptical about this tech being practical for real world use in less than 20 years, if ever.

kuryus
20th June, 2011 @ 12:03 pm PDT

@ Yous all - I have done a lot of development work on these systems, and they ARE brilliant.

No doubt about that at all.

What I am saying is that we NEED to have this event, to instead make a "RACE" of it, and to work on the most efficient "EVERY DAY" vehicle.

As it stands, this "RACE" is only serving to incorporate incremental improvements in technology and materials, instead of putting "EVERY DAY" vehicles on the road, at the economies of scale, associated with fuel driven cars.

And yes as it currently stands, the over the counter prices and efficiency of solar cells - well there is room for improvement - thus the REAL WORLD cars ought to have their power supplies or limited surface area's, augmented by home based collectors with the surface area of a car port or garage - thus these ought to be made into a mobile combination - with the real world racers.

See we NEED solar powered cars NOW, and this perpetual race of RACING cars - has no USER friendliness about it at all.

They cannot be used as a commuter vehicle, they need a support team and vehicles filled with spares, there is no room for say 2 weeks worth of shopping, you cannot get into or out of them - without having the biscuit tin lid stuck on or pulled off - and no one wants to wear lycra and use them under the threat of dying of heat stroke on a hot day......

I mean these SOLAR "RACERS" are as far removed from the practical day to day transport - as it is sending a an alien probe into Uranus.

So I am putting this on the table, that unless these are MADE here and now, as at a minimum of an in line 2 seater with room for a whole shopping trolley's worth of food, and people can get into and out of them like a regular car, and they can wear regular clothes - and it is as cost effective as the cheapest cars on the market to buy and run - and this is the benchmark for the race - what this race is, and what it will always remain as - is a technological wankfest that has no use.

We need practical solar powered transport - that everyone can buy and use, and we need it now.

Mr Stiffy
26th June, 2011 @ 11:11 pm PDT
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