The award-winning UNSW Solar Racing Team, Sunswift, is making a big transition this year – from racing a solar module on wheels to what team members think might be the future of the car; a solar electric hybrid vehicle.
Sunswift currently holds the world land speed record for a solar vehicle, the Guinness World Record for the world’s fastest solar-powered vehicle, and has won its class in the World Solar Challenge from Darwin to Adelaide for the last two years.
This year, they are entering a new class: a two doored vehicle dubbed eVe that looks more like a car than a spaceship, with a sleek carbon-fibre body and sleek body and a sweeping profile.
“We’ve reached a fork in the road,” says Sam Patterson, who has worked on the last four Sunswift challenges and has been project director for this and last year. “We are now looking at the future of motoring.”
Patterson describes eVe as essentially an electric vehicle, with range extension provided by solar power – or an electric solar hybrid.
“This is a step change from our perspective. It’s a new direction and a new challenge. And it’s a new image for solar vehicles. Everyone gets electric vehicles now, this is a solar range-extended electric vehicle.”
According to the UNSW team, the eVe will be able to do around 500kms without the sun, and a further 150kms with the sun. If it had double the amount of batteries (race rules place a strict limit), Patterson reckons it could go from Sydney to Melbourne without a recharge.
The vehicle features around 4 squrae metres of solar cells, regenerative braking, a lightweight carbon fibre shell, and aerodynamic features that means that while it has twice the front end of its previous vehicles, it has no more drag.
The 3,000km World Solar Challenge through the Australian outback will be held in October. Sunswift will be competing against teams from The US, Japan, the UK, and the Netherlands, and against teams backed by the big automotive companies and universities such as Stanford and Cambridge. About 200 students (virtually a whole new team from previous years) was involved in its design and construction. Around 20 will be involved in the race itself.