The world’s largest solar car race began Sunday October 8th with dozens of vehicles traveling some 1,800 miles from Australia’s north coast to south coast.
Starting in Darwin and ending in the southern city of Adelaide teams from over 30 countries take on the challenge of traversing the outback in a vehicle powered only by the power of the sun. These are arguably the most efficient electric vehicles in the world. Some teams expected to record an average speed of 90 to 100 km per hour throughout the challenge.
Students from leading international universities and technical institutes have to engineer and build a vehicle with their own hands using no more than four square meters of solar panels. With a standard entry fee of AU $13,000 they need sponsors to back up their design. The main action will be the streamlined Challenger class — slick, single seat aerodynamic vehicles built for sustained endurance and total energy efficiency. There is also a Cruiser class, which aims to showcase solar technology for mainstream vehicles that are more practical for day-to-day use.
Once the teams have left Darwin they must travel as far as they can until 5 pm in the afternoon where they make camp in the desert where ever they happen to be. All teams must be fully self-sufficient and for all concerned it is a great adventure – many say the adventure of a lifetime.
During the journey there are 7 mandatory checkpoints where observers are changed and team managers may update themselves with the latest information on the weather, and their position in the field. At checkpoints, teams can perform the most basic of maintenance only – checking and maintenance of tire pressure and cleaning of debris from the vehicle.
Nearly 40 teams left Darwin on Sunday but a number succumbed to issues before they left the city limits. The race takes one week to complete.
Hans Tholstrup, the founder of the 1982 World Solar Challenge, comments, “We can take a human being across a continent on just sunshine, and that is pure magic.” The technology or design used to achieve this efficiency could be further developed to be used in high performance race cars..
2017 Event Director Chris Selwood said a variety of practical uses come out of engineering these cars. One example is a Dutch team that developed a coating to make their car more aerodynamic and had the side effect that dirt won’t stick to it.
“If you applied that to a conventional car, you’d probably never have to wash it,” Selwood said. How cool would that be!