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Power Science Technology

Solar Powered Car Attempts to Break Record 126

Snowdon writes "Jaycar Sunswift III today started on its 4000km journey across the Australian outback, in an attempt to beat the 8.5 day record from Perth to Sydney. The team expects to complete the journey in 6 days, depending on the weather. It is a seriously innovative machine, with the aerodynamic design iteratively optimised on 80 CS lab computers over three months, custom-built carbon-fibre wheels, chassis, suspension and steering components, and custom-built power electronics and telemetry/control systems (components of which presently use Linux, but will soon run Iguana/Wombat). It is the result of several years' work by both undergraduate and postgraduate students at UNSW. Keep track of the team's progress by visiting www.sunswift.com."
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Solar Powered Car Attempts to Break Record

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  • No Roo bars? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rossdee ( 243626 ) * on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:35AM (#17551962)
    Do you think it would survive a collision with a kangaroo? I hear they can be a problem in the outback.
    • Willy willy [wikipedia.org] can also cause havoc. Another problem is all those cattle guards [wikipedia.org] in the Outback as well. On the flip side, though, I think outback tends to be _sunny_. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mjwx ( 966435 )
      The biggest problems with hitting roo's up north (of Australia) is at night when the kangaroo gets stunned by the headlights. Something tells me this wont be an issue on a solar powered car.

      FYI Roo's do bound out onto the road in daylight but an experienced driver can stop in time (by slowing down when they see roo's on the side of the road).
      • Re:No Roo bars? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anthony ( 4077 ) * on Thursday January 11, 2007 @10:17AM (#17555830) Homepage Journal

        After hitting 5 of them, I have to call myself experienced. When they jump out from bushes on the side of the road, you don't always get to see them in time. My first collision caused the most car damage. Too dark to see if the roo survived. Last one was in my Jazz and both the Honda Jazz and the roo were shaken but not injured. I had roo bars on my Toyota Tarago and that was my only confirmed kill. Instant roo death at 80km/hr braking to impact at about 60km/hr.

        BTW, there is no need to travel to the outback to see kangaroos. All of these incidents have occurred over the last 20 or so years in Canberra.

        • by trawg ( 308495 )
          BTW, there is no need to travel to the outback to see kangaroos. All of these incidents have occurred over the last 20 or so years in Canberra.
          Concur - I was in a cab one night in suburban Brisbane (maybe 10km out of the CBD, lots of parkland near by but it's hardly the outback or bush) and we hit a kangaroo that just jumped straight out in front of us - no way it could have been avoided. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't be there myself!
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by SinGunner ( 911891 )
      Worry more about the roaming packs of isz, the mountains the breath fire, giants, trolls and air whales.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by alchemy101 ( 961551 )
        Drop bears... it's the drop bears you have to really worry about!
      • by sporkme ( 983186 ) *
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Maxx [wikipedia.org] --- The Maxx is the allusion. It is a very good cartoon featured on MTV Oddities in the nineties, before it changed to strictly pop culture.
        • I wanted to give the whole quote he does at the beginning about the nature of outback ending with "THE LEOPARD QUEEN" and then going on about how he wishes it was time for Cheers, but my downloaded copy is at home and I am at work. Is there a relavent The Maxx DVD petition we can post around here? I don't see how Aeon Flux beat it to the punch.
          • by sporkme ( 983186 ) *
            The Australian outback is inhabited by many a strange and fascinating creature. That brings us to the leaping slug. It can leap nearly half a mile into the air [green slug leaps], but despite thousands of years of evolution, it has never mastered the art of landing. It has no natural predators. It is just... stupid. [splat]

            Then we come to the crabbit [pink rabbit with crab claws snags a slug]. it can leap and land, but it has a predator... the iz.

            The iz [chomps a crabbit] can leap and land *and* it
    • by kfg ( 145172 )
      Do you think it would survive a collision with a kangaroo?

      Wouldn't it have to be able to catch up to one first?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by GoulDuck ( 626950 )
        From their homepage FAQ:

        Q: How fast does it go?
        A: UNSW Sunswift III has been driven at up to 120km/h, however it could probably go faster than this. As the speed increases the power required increases dramatically (it is a cubic function), so in solar car racing average speed is of much greater interest! In good conditions (over a long distance) we can expect a cruising speed of 90km/h or more.

        Our previous solar car, UNSW Sunswift II, reached a maximum speed of 140km/h.

        From Wikipedia about Kangaroos

        • by kfg ( 145172 )
          we can expect a cruising speed of 90km/h or more.

          Under what conditions?

          speeds of up to 70 km/h (43 mph) can be attained, over short distances.

          Under what conditions?

    • by mabinogi ( 74033 )
      It'd be far less of a problem in the outback than it is in a city like Canberra.

      In the outback, the kangaroos have no reason to come to the road.
      But near a city, they come in to the city when water and food gets scarce - that's when they're a problem.
      Kangaroo road kill is a pretty common sight here (Canberra) - and I've personally had a couple of near misses.
  • by miratrix ( 601203 ) * on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:35AM (#17551966)
    The article title had me excited for a second - as a (ex-)member of the University of Waterloo's Midnight Sun Solar Race Car Team [uwaterloo.ca] that broke the world record for the longest distance traveled on a solar car [guinnessworldrecords.com], I thought they were trying to erase us from the record books. I guess the distance record will be safe for next little while longer. :)

    I wish you guys the best in your journey ahead! UNSW, for those that don't know, has one of the most advanced photovoltaic research labs in the world and probably still holds all the records for getting the highest efficiency out of Si-cells.
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:37AM (#17551984) Journal
    Seems to be slashdotted to me, and only 2 comments already.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by snowdon ( 80398 )
      Apologies. We've moved it to a much more appropriate server and updated the DNS. It should filter through to you all soon.
  • The solar powered part is easy compared to trying to drive through the freakin Australian outback! In case you missed that Mythbusters episode, it's like hell out there in some places. A normal car would barely hold up so the real challege is to have the car not break. But hey, maybe someone could just remove the gas system from a hybrid Prius and wire an electrical system connected to TONS of solar panels duct taped everywhere on it and bubble wrap and duct tape the hell out of the rest of it so it hold
    • by MrTrick ( 673182 )
      TONS of solar panels on top of a prius would probably result in a highly electrified pile of scrap metal.

      These solar cars are light and FAST...

      And they have more time and effort devoted to them than your inane idea. :-P
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jonwil ( 467024 )
      Assuming you stick to the sealed roads there is no issue. Highways like the Great Eastern Highway, the Eyre Highway and the Barrier Highway are trafficable to anything that can handle normal sealed city roads.

      Just make sure you have enough fuel for the trip, its a long way between gas stations out in the bush (although with these guys getting energy from the sun, that wont be an issue for them)
    • The highways in the outback are among the best roads around. They miss out on the two things that make roads break: Traffic, because they are not heavily used (~A few hundered vehicles a day), and weather, as it almost never rains. So, once built, a road needs little maintanence. The Ideal place for a solar challenge!

      Dirt roads are a different matter. Next time I head west of the divide I'll take a new picture for wikipedia's "Corrugated roads" article that actually has some corrugations. 4 to 6 inches deep
      • by OldBus ( 596183 )
        This is a genuine question: what surface do they put on highways in the outback? In the UK we mostly have tarmac and it melts in hot summers :( Presumably they use something else in the desert?
      • by Anthony ( 4077 ) *
        You don't have to go west of the divide to find good corrugations. Have you travelled the Nerrigan Road from Braidwood to Nowra? The corrugations were about 40 cm wide and 10 cm deep. Going fast was not an option with family Tarago and a narrow, winding road. It is going to be sealed sometime in the near future IIRC. The steak sandwich at the Nerrigan pub was worth the stress though.
  • And I hope no one rains on their trip.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by enos ( 627034 )
      Right smack in the middle of the outback is the "city" of Alice Springs. There is a "river" going through it. They say that if you saw water in the river more than twice you're a local.

      They have an annual boat race down the river. The boats don't have bottoms, and the team members grab the boat with their hands and run Flintstones-style.
      • I seem to remember about ten years ago that they had to cancel the boat race you described (I think it's called the Todd River Regatta)...because there was, in fact, water in the river that year.
      • by wyohman ( 737898 )
        Ahhh, the wonderful Henley-on-Todd Regatta. I've run in it a number of times myself.

        I've also seen the Todd River flow over a dozen times (I was also there in the flood of 1985). I'm back in the States now but I'd love to be back in Alice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:47AM (#17552086)
    One problem with this course is that its one-way, not symetrical. If a team wants to cheat, what they do is calculate the averate prevailing winds, and form their vehicles shape to get a boost from this. Not to imply this team is doing that, but because its possible and difficult to detect, a more symetrical course would be desirable.
    • by Harry8 ( 664596 )
      what they do is calculate the averate prevailing winds
      Never been to the Great Sandy Desert, huh? :-)
    • That's not really cheating. Wind is an indirect solar power and is (was) legal in most races. It was even legal to have a windmill setup when stopped (no body did it; explanation offtopic). I was on a solar car team in college and we actually looked into this effect. For us, it turned out that the shape you need to get any affect causes inefficiencies in other areas: weight, array angle, air resistance from any other wind direction. It wasn't worth it for us, but the effect does have potential.
  • by Frogbert ( 589961 ) <frogbert @ g m a il.com> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:49AM (#17552106)
    Once again we are plagued with stories originating from this so called "Western Australia". As an Australian I am probably most aware of the myth of Western Australia, for those of you not in the know I'll lay it out for you. Have you ever been to Western Australia? No you haven't, have you ever met anyone who is from Western Australia? No, I didn't think so. Seriously ask around your office, no one has been there. Sure you hear about it in the news (such as the article) but finding good hard evidence of its existence just isn't possible. Why you ask? Because Western Australia doesn't exist. Think about it. The supposed state is massive, too large to practically be governed by one single state government. Furthermore it is conveniently placed about as far away as possible from any other people, people who could verify its existence. As far as I can tell the whole myth of WA started as an inside joke between cartographers. Soon many other professionals, publishers, politicians, journalists, photographers etc. took notice and they all created their own versions of the joke. Together they created a vast tapestry of "evidence" of its existence and culture. Over the years this myth grew and the various versions merged together. Today many people just assume the state exists. A good repository of false evidence can be found here. [wikipedia.org] Unfortunately some people are so convinced of this preposterous notion they relentlessly revert my many edits to the site. Think about it people! A black swan? That doesn't make any sense at all, swans are white not black. OPEN YOUR EYES SHEEPLE!!
    • by Chmarr ( 18662 )
      Umm... what?
    • by jonwil ( 467024 )
      Having lived in Western Australia for over 20 years, I can confirm that yes, it DOES exist :)
    • Hey, settle down, everyone knows that Western Australia doesn't exist. The summary is wrong, it should read "Jaycar Sunswift III today started on its 14000km journey across the world, including the Australian outback, in an attempt to beat the 8.5 day record from Perth, Scotland to Sydney, Australia."
    • by Macgrrl ( 762836 )

      We send staff to the following two locations as 'punishment':

      • Canberra (the boss is in a mildy bad mood)
      • Perth (the boss really has it in for you, or has just got back from there himself)
    • Western Australia does exist, it's just that there is no life there.
    • That's some good stuff. I agree with your assessment of the Wikipedia link. You should post the truth here [uncyclopedia.org].

    • See, the problem with convincing slashdot editors that Western Australia doesn't exist goes back to a week in 2003, when Linux.conf.au was held at the supposed University of Western Australia ( see here for a pictures of Hemos at it - http://theducks.org/gallery/daffy/hemos_daffy [theducks.org] ). We had to go to a lot of effort to make it look like they were in Western Australia .. we flew them all around in planes for about a day, saying they were going to Australia, but in fact it was really held in rural Florida. We d
    • by mabinogi ( 74033 )
      um, there's black swans everywhere in Australia.

      I'd agree with the rest of your post, except I have actually been to WA, unfortunately. Although I can't be certain they didn't put me to sleep in the airport for two weeks and fiddle with my memory ;)
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      It's true! It's just like Utah - there's too many weird stories about it - it couldn't possibly exist.
    • My dad (an englishmen) used to say EXACTLY the same thing about America.

    • by Perey ( 818567 )

      It exists and I live there... but of course, 'we' would say that, wouldn't we?

      But seriously. The problem with your argument is this: If Western Australia doesn't exist, what the hell is keeping the rest of the country's economy afloat? ;-)

      We're kind of like California, our economy is stronger than many sovereign countries'. If our 'nonexistent' state and its very real income finally got around to seceding [wikipedia.org], the rest of the country would be right up the creek... The best part is, this solar car thing is jus

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @01:01AM (#17552214) Journal
    80 Australian CS lab computers - What's that in US computers?
  • good luck! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cbc1920 ( 730236 ) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @01:08AM (#17552270)
    UNSW is a true veteran of the solar car racing world. I wish them all the best of luck in their treck across the outback, and hope they bring lots of spare tires!

    Let me take this opportunity to plug the premire solar car race, coming up this October, for its 20th anniversary, the World Solar Challenge. I hope to be there, and I'm sure UNSW will join the rest of the field. Everyone come watch if you can, or at least follow along online.

    http://www.wsc.org.au/2007/ [wsc.org.au]
    • and hope they bring lots of spare tires!
      Why bring spares, just use a tire that doesn't get flats. http://www.fastcoolcars.com/airless-tires.htm [fastcoolcars.com] FA
      • Re:good luck! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Ronin441 ( 89631 ) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:05AM (#17554078) Homepage

        Why bring spares, just use a tire that doesn't get flats.
        Because t[iy]res that go flat are more efficient. The majority of solar car teams spurn even regular tyres as too inefficient, and run special solar car racing tyres. These are thin, because less rubber means less to deform as the rubber meets the road, and deformation absorbs energy. They are often low in carbon black, which reduces their life but again decreases the amount of energy absorbed by deformation. And we pump them up really really hard.

        In 2003, Aurora and MIT Tesseract were less than a minute apart for much of the race, until Tesseract hit an amber traffic light in Port Augusta, slammed on the brakes, and popped two tyres. (Aurora had studied rolling resistance versus tyre pressure, and discovered that the last bit of extra inflation caused almost no change in rolling resistance, and thus ran their tyres at a saner pressure.) Blown tyres are quite common, which considering that these are mostly three wheeled vehicles, and that the top cars often go in excess of 100km/h, is terrifying.
        • Because t[iy]res that go flat are more efficient.

          Completely rigid tires can't go flat, and would have the lowest possible rolling resistance.

          See: train wheels.

          Obviously, the ride wouldn't be comfortable.
    • by Gertlex ( 722812 )
      In a later comment on this page, I mentioned the two sections in the WSC; one that has more rules than the other; the former being more pubilicized. If indeed this car's design has been fixed for a few years now, it probably won't be elgible for the first of the two because of a regulation change that requires the driver to sit in a more upright position.

      Generally this change results in reduced aerodynamics, but at the same time is more like real world cars. From the pictures of the car discussed in this a
  • iteratively optimised on 80 CS lab computers over three months

    This made me cringe... it always annoys me when I log in to use the lab computers only to find that the machine is running slowly because N students are running number crunching code on every lab machine they can find.

    Some would go as far to lock the X console since they didn't understand how to use 'screen' to run their processes in a detachable console.

    If students are going to do this is seems the very least they could do is get funding for the school to build a cluster exclusively for number crunc

    • by Vylen ( 800165 )
      It's a good thing these types of calculations are actually done out of hours when there shouldn't be anyone in the labs.
      • Maybe at your school. The calculations students are running are running all the time for weeks on end sometimes.
        • Wah, wah, wah.

          Try running Pro-Engineer on a Sparc-10 with just 64 megs of RAM... when there are no fewer than four other students running Pro-E on that same machine, displaying the results on their terminals. That's what it was like for me...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by snowdon ( 80398 )
      We weren't able to use the machines in the lab's opening hours. Mostly because the simulations required large amounts of RAM. We wrote up a submission system which started the machines up each night, ran the simulation until the labs opened, and shut the simulations down again. This would happen each night until the job was done and the results were added to the pile. Each job was run on 8 machines, so we were able to do 10 in parallel. That's 10 slightly different designs which were tested in parallel. Eac
      • by snowdon ( 80398 )
        Oooh. We were also looking to see how much of an advantage making the car thin gives you, and then optimising the upper/lower curvature for each thickness to give the minimum drag (which is approx 0 lift).
      • by tolldog ( 1571 )
        Sounds like you need Platform's LSF.

        It would handle all of that for you.
  • by Gertlex ( 722812 ) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @01:12AM (#17552296)
    As a member of a college-level solar car team, I'm curious as to what the solar cells that it uses are. It's nothing special that just about everything on the car is custom built; that's a norm for SC teams. There are two divisions in the World Solar Challenge [wikipedia.org]. One division, the more publicized, is restricted to "publicly available" (though not necessarily cheap) solar cells. There are various other limitations in this category as well. The other, which I know even less about, but allows any solar cells to be used.

    A common reference that my team gives the public is that our car runs on the power of a hair dryer. Does this car attain more or less power.

    I'd guess this project doesn't have any restrictions. I just wonder, that's all.
    • Its website FAQ says the solar array produces a peak of 1800 watts. I don't know enough about solar panels to derive any conclusions about this.

      The UNSW photovoltaic department is a bit of a pride of UNSW (there's a big sign for it on the Elec Eng building in the middle of uni) so I expect they're not off-the-shelf solar cells.
    • by snowdon ( 80398 ) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @02:26AM (#17552852) Homepage Journal
      There are 1034 cut down Sunpower A300 cells in the array. (They're cut to take off the corners and allow us to get 5% more active area into our 12m^2 - we ended up with 11.5m^2 active area). They're encapsulated by Gochermann Solar Techonology in Germany (for reference: I can't speak highly enough of these things. Having built several of our arrays, including the vacuum-formed curved panels for Sunswift 2, I can assure everyone that this is easily the best experience I've ever had with solar cells. Everything just works the way its supposed to).
  • Total Rice (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11, 2007 @01:31AM (#17552436)
    Off a stoplight my Dodge Neon would smoke this greenie weenie POS like it was standing still.
    Mopar or No Car!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NixieBunny ( 859050 )
      And after 300 miles of empty Australian desert your Neon would roll to a halt, drained of gasoline, as the solar car just kept on going and going and going...
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      With small wheels, low weight and a powerfull electic motor these things would smoke you dodge for the first few seconds. It's really easy to accelerate quickly with small wheels.
  • The record the are going to beat was set in 1983 by a car drinving an average speed of 20km/h. That's not much of a challenge (they expect to be driving an average of 70km/h). It seems to me that this old record is still standing because nobody bothered to break it.

    Another record, from Adelaide to Darwin (3000km) is held by the dutch solar car Nuna 3, which averaged 103km/h. This would have been higher if not for speed limits on the Australian roads. The speed record for solar cars (without any imposed limi
    • Another record, from Adelaide to Darwin (3000km) is held by the dutch solar car Nuna 3, which averaged 103km/h. This would have been higher if not for speed limits on the Australian roads. The speed record for solar cars (without any imposed limits) on normal roads has been more or less maxed out.

      The Delft University of Technology will be participating in this race with the Nuna 4 [nuonsolarteam.nl]. This is the team - also a student team! - that won the race in 2001, 2003 and 2005. There's a brief explanation of the new ru

    • Those speed limits could only have applied in (the state of) South Australia, The northern Territory where the major part of the race would have been held only introduced speed limits last week.
  • by des09 ( 263929 ) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @05:49AM (#17553982) Journal
    Are there any Open projects going strong for adapting a street car to have some added electrical drive + regen braking, I figure my 12 mile commute could be made considerably cheaper. I have always wondered why we [geeks] can't come up with a modification to add embedded motors on the free wheels of a two wheel drive - add some firmware and we're looking at bolt on 4 wheel drive + greatly improved torque at the wheels, something the performance modders can get excited about.

    induction charging, or plug in at the garage at home, a small solar panel to top off at work before the schlep home...

    Not from scratch like these guys...
    http://www.theoscarproject.org/ [theoscarproject.org]

    yeah, I know I could google it...
    • yes, google but... I don't know about retro fitting, but the companies working on hybrids are working on that type of stuff for new cars. The technology is here, but as usual the problem is price. A good solar car motor will cost over $10k US. The battery pack will be more than that. Currently, there are a lot better things you could do with that money to save power.
      • by des09 ( 263929 )
        Exactly, The tech is maturing, but to gain I have to upgrade. Well, our 2 cars have planty of life in them, especially my commuter. I don't want to send either of them to the junkheap, just to increase my gas mileage, that seems like a very big net carbon loss, I'd rather reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, even if I had to ammortize over 5 years to see return.

  • UNSW is the University of New South Wales. It is located in Sydney, the state capital of NSW.
    • Why New South Wales ? Is there really a New North Wales and if not why choose to name somewhere after only South Wales, why not East Wales or West Wales or North Wales or even just Wales or better still Britain ?
      • by smoker2 ( 750216 )
        Because to the English who first went there, it looked similar to South Wales. Hence New South Wales. A similar concept to Nova Scotia (New Scotland) or New Caprica (err, ok). South Wales has different scenery to North Wales. How about New York, or New Mexico, or New Orleans ? By your rules they would be called Britain, Mexico, and France.
  • In Memoriam (Score:2, Informative)

    by AikonMGB ( 1013995 )

    As a University of Toronto Engineer, I was a member of the UofT Blue Sky Solar Racing Team [utoronto.ca] in 2003 and 2004. In that time, I had a lot of fun and met many great people, one of whom was Andrew Frow [utoronto.ca], who lost his life in a solar car accident in August of 2004. He was a great leader with a vision, who always kept the big picture in mind. He made every member of the team feel like they were doing something useful, even us F!rosh that didn't know anything about Engineering yet.


  • At 4000km, even over 6 days, that's 4000km *( 1 mi / 1.6km ) / 6 days / 24 hours = 17 mph. Maybe it's just me, but it's hard to get impressed about something going as fast as I can on a bicycle, even if I can't bike for 6 days straight.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun