A group of engineering students from the University of Cambridge is hoping to become the first British team to take home the World Solar Challenge crown with a new solar car dubbed "Resolution." The vehicle, which the team claims "rewrites the rulebook for green vehicles," features solar panels that will move to track the sun as it makes the 3,000 km (1,864 mi) journey across the Australian outback from Darwin to Adelaide.

Resolution's unique design was unveiled on July 5 at the Millbrook Race Track, near Bedford, England. Like the mirrors at concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, it features moving panels that track the path of the sun across the sky, allowing the vehicle to maximize power collection throughout a race.

The solar panels are embedded within an aft-facing tracking plate that follows the sun's trajectory, moving the panels so they are optimally positioning to catch some rays. The Eco-Racing team estimates this will give the car 20 percent more power than it would have with traditional paneling.

Traditionally, solar cars have been impeded by an issue of balance between aerodynamics and solar performance. Like most engineering, a compromise was made where the highest efficiency peaked.

"That's how [solar cars have] been designed for the past 10 years, and that's why they all tend to look the same," explains Keno Mario-Ghae, team manager for Cambridge University Eco-Racing.

Unlike the tabletop design that most previous entries in the Word Solar Challenge have adopted, Resolution has a teardrop shape that houses the tracking plate structure under a canopy. This vehicle design is more aerodynamic, with no compromise between aerodynamics and solar performance because the shape houses the solar panel system, rather than the system being a part of the vehicle structure.

Last year, the World Solar Challenge altered its rules with a stipulation that required cars to adopt a more conventional design than previous years. Though the Resolution doesn't quite have the appearance of an SUV, the design is certainly closer to common road cars than past entries.

The tiny cockpit features on-board telemetry, which gauges traffic, weather, and driving style to create an "intelligent cruise control" that will advise the team on the best practices to optimize efficiency during the race. Locating the motor in the hub of the wheel also allowed the team to eliminate the need for gears, chains and differentials.

With a footprint of less than 5 m (16.4 ft) in length, 0.8 m (2.6 ft) wide, and 1.1 m (3.6 ft) high, the Resolution's driver can't be any taller than 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in). The team says that these dimensions are deliberate concessions for the sake of making the vehicle as fast and efficient as possible (they are trying to win the race, after all). It seems to be working, as the 120 kg (264 lb) vehicle can reach a top speed of nearly 140 km/h (87 mph) while running on about the same amount of power as a hair dryer.

Whether the Resolution can deliver the Cambridge University Eco-Racing crown will be revealed at the 2013 World Solar Challenge in Australia that runs from October 6 to 13.

The video below gives a brief overview of Resolution's journey from conception to completion.

Source: University of Cambridge