Chasing The Sun: Meet The UWS Solar Challenge Team, Supported By Gizmodo

Chasing The Sun: Meet The UWS Solar Challenge Team, Supported By Gizmodo

It’s Saturday morning and a winter fog clings to the hilly paddocks at The University of Western Sydney’s Kingswood campus. Inside block Z, a team of 25 engineering and industrial design students, alumni and multi-disciplined volunteers are building a solar-powered car from scratch. Come October 2013, in stark contrast to weather outside, they hope to race it from Darwin to Adelaide in the next World Solar Challenge. But before the team negotiates the desert, road trains, bush fires and better funded competition – they face immediate design and funding challenges. This is their story, and Gizmodo is along for the ride.

Support the UWS Solar Challenge Team! If you have marketing/sponsor dollars (hello car makers, telcos and electronics multinationals) or engineering support to donate, please contact Greg at UWS Solar Car.

Gizmodo Australia is excited to be on board: each week we’ll be posting build reports leading up to the rolling chassis tests this August, powered trials in September, and the race itself in October 2013.

I’m in the team lab, formerly known as a 10m by 10m storeroom out the back of campus. CAD designs line the walls, each iteration representing hundreds of man-hours. A foam mould rests upon wooden jigs in the centre floor space. Soon it will be layered with carbon fibre to form the 4.5m long by 1.6m wide car shell; a technique not unlike building a boat.

As the hive of activity winds down for the day, team lead Jay Manley pulls up a stool. “We’re trying to get up to highway speeds on the power of a toaster.”

For me, this shit just got real.

“The average power is one kilowatt. The theoretical max speed of the car is 120- to 130kph, but we won’t drive that fast; it’s an energy management race.

“We’re aiming for an average speed of around 100kph for the roughly 3000km distance.” That’s an ambitious target, as even a 70kph average would have placed in the top five in 2011.
Back in high school, Jay competed in the UNSW SunSprint Model Solar Car Challenge. That experience gave him the engineering bug, and last year he conceived the full-sized UWS Solar Car project for his final year engineering project. Now a graduate, Jay “stuck around to see the project finished”, forming the UWS Solar Car Club. Its 30-odd members include current engineering and industrial design students who earn credits, student volunteers from a variety of backgrounds (including medical science) and alumni like Jay.

The Team! Right: Core members Jay Manley (Project Lead), Albert Mahoney (Mechanical and Materials Head), Greg Hatten (Business and Partnership Coordinator), Vince Mangion (Head of Industrial Design), Jithendra U Shnkar (Mechatronics), Missing: Norman Diaz (Electrical Lead), Dave Waterworth (Absent Mechanical lead)

The Challenge Within The Challenge

Advisor Dr Ali Hellany, the main academic helping the project

Though the team has held fundraising barbeques, it’s going to take a hell of lot of sausages to reach its $500,000 goal. Even minimum costs involve $168,000 for car construction and $100,000 in logistical overheads.

UWS itself has graciously provided lab space and support from the head of its recently merged school of engineering, mathematics and computing. But no actual funds have been contributed to date. At Gizmodo, we’re sure that will change.

Meanwhile, Strathfield South High School has come on board with an educational partnership, providing $10,000 sponsorship in return for three year 9 students joining the team. Each Saturday they head out with their parents to work with the build crew and gain invaluable experience and encouragement for their own SunSprint Challenge models. A further $10,000 plus free fabrication has also been donated by Ox Engineering Group. Check them out for all your metal fabrication needs.

As the majority of the team’s students are from Western Sydney (traditionally an area of modest economic means and, incidentally, where I grew up), Jay and crew are also exploring grant options from Laurie Ferguson MP, Federal Member for Werriwa, and Greg Combet AM MP, whose federal portfolio not only includes Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, but also Industry and Innovation.

The Competition

Design evolution

Come race time, “there’s a real sense of camaraderie amongst the competitors”, enthuses Jay. “Anything can happen when mechanical and electrical systems are engineered so close to the line.”

Including accidents: The two (female) UWS drivers will be shielded from the massive semi-trailer road trains by a chase vehicle front and rear, and have a paramedic on hand. As for sleeping? Driving time is 8am to 5pm – and where you end up on the Stuart Highway is where you’re camping for the night.

The UWS Solar Car Club has realistic ambitions. They’re hungry just to compete and hoping to build the seeds of a legacy along the lines of the University of New South Wales, who saw its fully-funded SunSwift Solar Team place sixth overall in 2011. The race is held every two years, and other Australian teams include the successful CSIRO/Mazda-supported Aurora Solar Car, and an entry from TAFE South Australia.

Race favourites include Japan’s Tokai University (first in 2011; sponsored by Toyota, Panasonic and Yamaha), Delft University of Technology Netherlands (second in 2011) and the University of Michigan, who came third in 2011 but will this time be supported by a little engineering start-up you might have heard of called General Motors. Not just with funds but also through technical expertise and testing facilities. Expect to also see teams from Stanford, Cambridge, India and the Philippines.

Down the table of work

What’s Next?

World Solar Challenge organisers are set to announce full team, date, regulation and class details for the 2013 race next Tuesday, 19 June. In the meantime, the UWS team will continue its Saturday build program and we’ll be keeping you posted each week here on Gizmodo.

If all goes to plan, they’ll have a finalised test concept completed in the next two months. Rolling chassis tests are slated for August, followed by powered trials throughout September.

Until next week rolls around, consider sharing this link with your friends and colleagues. The UWS Solar Car Club needs your support!