The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia is one of the world’s biggest innovation challenges. From 8 to 15 October, more than 90 university teams from around the world compete with sustainable solar powered electric vehicles. We interviewed Simba Kuestler from the University of New South Wales team Sunswift.

How many Solar Challenges has the Sunswift University New South Wales (UNSW)  team participated in?

This will be the 9th time Sunswift has participated in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (BWSC)

In this year’s World Solar Challenge you are competing in the cruiser class. What are the design rules that you have to comply with in this class?

The two main variations we have to deal with competing in the Cruiser class as opposed to the Challenger are:

  • a minimum of two seats
  • larger maximum allowable dimensions for the vehicle

What this typically means is that due to needing more occupants, the vehicles are naturally larger and substantially heavier. The majority of this additional weight however, is in the form of more occupants. For example, almost half the weight of our vehicle is due to passengers alone, which requires substantially more robust designs as a result

What was the main motivation for the Sunswift team to change in 2013 from the challenger class to the cruiser class?

The introduction of the Cruiser class in 2013 came at the perfect time for us. We were at a crossroads in our team where we wanted a way to push beyond the single application of a solar challenge. The idea of being able to design a car that could be accepted by the public as an alternative method of sustainable transport was too good to resist.

What are the main differences between the new Violet car and the previous one?

The main difference between Violet and our previous car is the upgrade from 2 seats to 4 seats while also improving the aerodynamic efficiency despite being 20% larger. To fully appreciate the improvements between the two cars though, a closer inspection is needed to identify the tablet with live telemetry, navigation and Bluetooth sound system, evaporative air conditioning system, adjustable seats and custom made driver display.

How close does this car get to the driving experience with a traditional gas-fuelled car?

In terms of cabin space and seating position, Violet feels very similar if not better to conventional gas-fuelled cars. However, due to it being so much lighter, steering is actually significantly more sensitive, and susceptible to small variations on the road.

Did the Violet car receive road clearance for regular use?

Violet has received temporary road clearance both prior and during the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. However, we have not repeated our efforts of the last car to make her fully authenticated as road legal due to the implications this has on remaining competitive in the BWSC.

Can you tell us something about the Sunswift  UNSW team?

UNSW Solar Racing Team Sunswift is a team of approximately 40 undergraduate engineers from the University of New South Wales. We are a group of hard working dedicated young adults who believe age is no excuse for not trying to change the world for the better.

With a new team for every new Solar Challenge, how do you transfer your engineering knowledge and know-how to the next team?

The main two methods of knowledge transfer we have are, an online wiki server through a platform called Confluence. This is where all design documentation, testing notes, event schedules, team details etc are kept for team access. The other method is through word of mouth. This is due to the usual occurrence that a few experienced Sunswift team members will continue be part of the team after their first race.

Does participation in the Solar Challenge also challenge your suppliers?

Often it does. Due to the demanding nature of a competition such as the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, we often have to make modifications to designs or plans. The most common flow on affect from this is then the need for certain material, supplies or machining tasks to be completed with very little warning and very strict deadlines. It’s always a challenge to manage, but the skills gained from it are part of what make this project so valuable.

Which technologies have improved the most in the past 2 years?

For us personally, it is our knowledge and skill with composites. We’ve had some fantastic mentors in the form of Core Builders Composites over in New Zealand who both advised and assisted with the design and build of our vehicles body. In terms of general solar car technology though, I think the biggest improvement is the form of batteries. In this case, capacity to some extent but primarily cost reduction

There are a few initiatives around the world where former Solar Challenge team members are setting up companies to commercialize a solar driven car. Does this also apply for the Sunswift team?

One day it might, but currently that is not our goal. Commercialisation will become a reality for us once we reach a point of convergence where if we had the option to redesign and build a new car, it would be almost identical to it’s predecessor. At that point, reproducible becomes the next milestone.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Science & Technology Today wishes all teams good luck in this exciting competition.