Sun-tracking solar car gears up for the 2013 World Solar Challenge

Cambridge University engineering students will be entering their revolutionary sun-tracking solar vehicle design in the World Solar Challenge taking place this October in Australia.
Date:11 July 2013 Author: Sean Woods Tags:, ,

Out with the old and in with the new. At least, that’s the way UK engineering students at Cambridge University see it. What they’ve gone and done is “rewrite the rule book for green vehicles” with their prototype design, dubbed “Resolution”, that they’ll be entering in the World Solar Challenge – a gruelling 3 000 km race from Darwin to Adelaide – taking place Down Under this October.

Cambridge University Eco-Racing team manager keno Mario-Ghae explains: “Traditionally, the entire structure of a solar car has been based on a trade-off between aerodynamic performance and solar performance. That’s how they’ve been designed for the past 10 years, and that’s why they all tend to look the same.”

“We turned the concept on its head. Our reasoning is that solar performance needs to adapt to the movement of the sun, but the car needs a fixed shape to be at its most aerodynamic. To make the car as fast and powerful as possible, we needed to find a way to separate the two ideas out, rather than find a compromise between them.”

Their solution: Embed the solar panels within an aft-facing tracking plate that follows the sun’s trajectory throughout the day to ensure they’re optimally positioned at all times. This structure was then placed under a transparent canopy that, in turn, forms part of the vehicle’s teardrop-shaped body to maintain its aerodynamic profile.

The team estimates their break from the traditional “tabletop” design should give Resolution around 20 per cent more power than it would’ve had otherwise. To give you an idea, it weighs 120 kg and can reach speeds of almost 140 km/h while consuming the same amount of power as your average hairdryer.

To achieve this, they had to maximise efficiency at every level. For example, the motor is located in the hub of the wheel, eliminating the need for gears, chains or differentials. The vehicle’s also been fitted with an “intelligent cruise control” which takes into account traffic, weather and driving style and then advises the team how to optimise efficiency in real time during the race.

Says Mario-Ghae: “The cumulative effect is, we think, a radical, race-winning design that also incorporates elements that could be used more widely in a low-carbon future. No British team has won this race before, but there’s no reason why we can’t be the first.”

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