Australia Network

Print | Close

print friendly page for

15 May 2008

Solar Car

Aaron Russell: Initially, it was just gonna be a solar-electric vehicle.

Dr Colin Kestell: We're gonna put the roll bar down that way.

Aaron Russell: Since then, we've made it an undergraduate student project, and it started to evolve into a slightly bigger project.

Dr Colin Kestell: All students in engineering - across the schools of electrical engineering and mechanical engineering - complete a final-year project. Some projects are just an individual. Some projects are as big as ours.

Aaron Russell: The good thing about the project is it's in the very early stages of its development. Last year it was just a mock-up. This year we're gonna have a rolling vehicle. On that rolling vehicle we'll have solar cells, we'll have batteries, we'll have electric motors. The good thing about it, though, is that it's going to attract research towards improving the efficiency of those solar cells, the efficiency of the batteries, the efficiency of the electric motors.

Dr Nesimi Ertugrul: Technology is evolving enormously fast. As an example, this is an ordinary capacitor - value, maybe, numerically 1,000. But the size and weight of these devices changes incredibly. Super capacity coolant of this device may be about this size now.

Dr Colin Kestell: The car's driven by four inhub motors. And the inhub motors directly drive the four wheels. The power source is the batteries. Those batteries are charged by literally plugging it in at home or by the solar cells, which we can calculate, given... If we get the solar cells on the roof, the rear and the front, we think that's probably about 70% to 80% of the power needed to drive. The inhub motors this year can be produced by the solar cells on the vehicle.

Long Jin: This year we're busy working on the skateboard chassis, which is able to house all the electrical components for our solar car. All the design has been done by last year's students for aerodynamic efficiency design and also for fashion. This year we updated the chassis and put the body modification on.

Nageswary Karuppiah: I'm the ergonomics team leader. So ergonomics actually means designing for human behaviour and their profile. So, what we've chosen to design for is for 75% of Australian men. 'Cause if you're gonna sit like that... So I'm in charge of the interior design and, of course, some of the other bits of exterior, like lights and the rear-vision mirrors. We decided to make our own dashboard with GPS down there, camera right up there. And we've decided to have the driver's information - instead of right in front there - but this year we're planning to have it on the steering wheel itself, where you can actually push forward when you're getting inside the car, and then pull it to wherever you want it to be when you start driving.

Dr Nesimi Ertugrul: My experience over the, let's say, 10 years is that the students gain much broader experience when you integrate the theoretical studies into a real-life study.

Aaron Russell: They learn a lot of skills about engineering. These skills go beyond just the technical side of engineering, but they start to develop attributes such as teamwork, people management, scheduling, budgeting.

Dr Colin Kestell: You're not working by yourself. You're really working in a team environment, which is crucial to a future career. It's been a great advantage to the students working in it as in industry, in companies, they'll have to work across disciplines throughout their careers. So this gives them an early taste of what that's like. So what we aim to achieve through that is to create, design, build, test a road-worthy electric car, with solar cells as well, for Australian roads.

Dr Nesimi Ertugrul: I'm very hopeful that future vehicles will be all electric. I'm very confident to say that. I see the hybrid vehicle as a transition stage. But even now we can build an electric vehicle. One of the critical issues in electric vehicle technology is not to convert the existing vehicle, because of their size and weight, instead doing a ground-up design. All the technologies are available. We are not inventing the wheel again. We are simply utilising those in an efficient manner to come up with a low-cost way.

Aaron Russell: There was a Kevin Costner film - I think it's called 'Field of Dreams' - where he had to build a baseball court. And I think the catchphrase in that was, "If you build it, they will come." And I think it's very analogous to this - if we build the car, if we showcase the car, I think that, in itself, is gonna attract more research and it's gonna lead towards much better solutions for vehicles in the future.