Solar Sailors: Meet Gizmodo's World Solar Challenge Team


New team members, new design, new rules, same determination to win. Meet Gizmodo's World Solar Challenge team SolAce, as they try to build a world-beating solar car to race down the inhospitable spine of Australia and beat out better funded teams from Europe, the US and their own backyard. This week: how does a system designed for weapons development help our team create a world-beating Solar Car?

Greg Hatten is the business development manager on the SolAce team — a team that includes designers who have worked on champion America's Cup yachts, engineers whose credits include James Cameron’s award-winning submarine, and technology from Australia’s peak science organisation, the CSIRO. It's a serious outfit, alright.

Recently the team partnered with Lenovo, who generously donated a weaponised workstation that is often used for everything from weapons development to F1 race testing.

So how is a weaponised black box going to help a Solar Car? We asked Greg to explain.

What is the workstation you have been given by Lenovo?

We were given a Lenovo D20 workstation and a Lenovo S20 workstation

The D20 has a Intel Xeon E5-2660 2.2 GHz processor with 16 threads, a Quadro 4000 graphics card specially designed for CAD work, and we were gifted on top of that a Nvidia Tesla 2075 Graphical Processing Unit. Basically this combination speeds up our CAD processing by about 10 times over the laptops we were previously using (and means we can stop burning out our own graphics cards)

The S20 has an Intel Xeon W3690 3.46GHz processor and a Nvidia Quadro 2000.

How did you get it?

Our business team have been working tirelessly since the project began to drum up support. One of its greatest achievements has been the coverage partnership with Gizmodo, but we have always been finding details, cold calling and using contacts to find people who would support us. Luckily, when we knocked on Lenovos door, they were willing to help in whatever way they could, showing their devotion to Education and Environmental technology. It is always difficult finding supporters and having someone say yes is a big deal for us and we’re very thankful for any support we get.

What are you able to do with it that you weren't able to do before?

Before we were using our personal laptops, laptops designed for either the price we paid for them or gaming. This meant that they were so slow that they basically couldn’t run the level of detail in solid works we had or had incredible lag times. Whenever we rendered the 3d model into the images we have shown you, it could take up to an hour for us. With these machines, that time on full 1080p resolution (opposed to the 720 we were running it on before) on the new machines now takes up a minute and 30 seconds and it definitely doesn’t run with lag anymore.

On top of this we can now use it to video edit, photo edit and run code with ease.

How will it help the team?

There are two things which this helped us with, having such a major company as Lenovo get behind us has really brought up the morale of the team at a critical time, but also the productivity improvements, having machines at our lab we can call our own, control and work on CAD this quickly with means that we are now more dedicated and faster at out work. The time it takes us to test the body shapes in the lack of a physical wind tunnel is also reduced and so we can try and get the best car we can out of it now.


What have you done with it so far?

So far we’ve just been getting used to the system, however we’ve redone some of our renderings and have done a few small items like braking and suspension systems in half the time it used to take us

What more support do you need for your project?

We’ve raised heaps of support from our university since we first started, as well as our partnerships with SunPower Australia, Gizmodo and Lenovo and our educational link with our talented recruits from South Strathfield High, but we definitely still need help (solar cars are costly endeavours). To compete to what we forecasted we still need to raise at least another $150,000 in both cash and product. Any support we can garner is appreciated, even contact details for people in high up places (or food for growing boys and girls who spend days and nights building, sanding, painting, wiring and coding). (please guys, make my job easier, I have uni work to do too!)

When is the race?

The race is in October of this year, starting on the 6th of October, hopefully you’ll have updates daily (where possible in the middle of the desert) from us using Vlogs or communication with our friends here at Gizmodo!

What are you working on right now?

Right now the project is focussing on CADding up all the small componenentry for the motor and electronics. The team is also finalising the layout of the solar cells so they can be shipped to germany for encapsulation and programming is starting to occur for the telemetry and monitoring systems. All incredibly busy stuff.

The build rolls on!

You can follow UWS' Solar Challenge on Facebook and Twitter.

Our team still needs sponsors, so if you're keen to help the underdog get a leg up in this amazing contest, contact Greg at UWS Solar Car.

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