New and under the sun

Jul 05, 2013
The 2013 solar car developed by Cambridge students has a more aerodynamic design, thanks to tracking solar panels at the back, which prevent any compromise on its shape. Credit: CUER

A group of Cambridge students are hoping that their game-changing design of solar car will make them the first British winners of the World Solar Challenge.

A new which, according to its creators, "rewrites the rulebook" for green vehicles, has been designed by students aiming to become the first British team to win the World Solar Challenge.

The prototype, which has been named "Resolution", was built by engineers at the University of Cambridge. It is being unveiled in a road-test today (July 5th) at the Millbrook Race Track, near Bedford.

The team will be taking the car to Australia in October, where they will compete against rivals from all over the world in a 3,000km race from Darwin to Adelaide, in which the vehicles must be powered by the sun alone.

Their hope is that Resolution's radically different design, in particular a set of moving which maximise power by tracking the path of the sun across the sky, will enable them to take first place where others have failed. No British team has ever won the competition in its 26-year history.

Keno Mario-Ghae, team manager for Cambridge University Eco-Racing, based at the University's Department of Engineering, said: "Resolution is different because she overcomes one of the main limitations that affect most solar cars."

"Traditionally, the entire structure of a solar car has been based on a trade-off between and solar performance. That's how they've been designed for the past 10 years, and that's why they all tend to look the same."

"We turned the concept on its head. Our reasoning is that solar performance needs to adapt to the movement of the sun, but the car needs a fixed shape to be at its most aerodynamic. To make the car as fast and powerful as possible, we needed to find a way to separate the two ideas out, rather than find a compromise between them."

The solution the team eventually hit upon involved embedding the solar panels within an aft-facing tracking plate. This plate follows the sun's trajectory, and moves the panels themselves, so that they are optimally positioned at all times. The team estimate that this will give the car 20 per cent more power than it would have otherwise had.

This structure is placed under a canopy which forms part of the teardrop shape of the vehicle as a whole. The design is a departure from the "tabletop" look of most other solar cars, but is more aerodynamic. Because it encases the solar panels, rather than making them part of the shape, the question of power generation does not compromise the car's aerodynamics.

Resolution measures less than 5m in length, is 0.8m wide and about 1.1m in height. Driving her across the Australian desert is likely to be a claustrophobic experience - in fact, the driver must be a maximum of 5' 3'' tall! These, however, are deliberate concessions made by the team for the sake of making the vehicle as fast and efficient as possible in the hope of winning the race. In the future, more conventional solar vehicles may well adopt similar ideas, but opt for comfort, rather than speed.

The car weights 120kg, and can reach a top speed of almost 140 kilometres per hour (almost 87 miles per hour), but needs about the same amount of power as a hairdryer. It achieves this by maximising efficiency at every level - for example, the motor is located in the hub of the wheel, eliminating the need for gears, chains or differentials which would lower its efficiency overall.

For those small enough to squeeze inside the cockpit, the vehicle has also been fitted with on-board telemetry, an "intelligent cruise control" which takes into account traffic, weather and driving style, and will advise the team on how to optimise the vehicle's efficiency during the race itself.

2013 will be the third time that student engineers at Cambridge have taken part in the race. The first attempt, in 2009, was beset by battery issues and saw the team finish 14th out of 26 entrants. After a substantial redesign, the University's Eco-Racing team entered again in 2011. That race was hampered by bush fires and poor weather conditions, and only seven of the participating cars were able to finish using solar power alone.

The team raises its own funds to develop and build the car, using a combination of corporate sponsorship and individual donations through a "Friends of CUER" scheme. The students involved also have to manage the manufacturing schedule carefully, as part way through the course of building the vehicle everything is necessarily put on hold while they do their exams! The final product is the result of a huge, collaborative effort involving 60 students.

"Efficiency is where our real strength lies and this is how we will be hoping to compete with the bigger teams entering the Challenge this time around," Mario-Ghae added. "A huge amount of careful planning has gone into this project. It has involved research not just in terms of engineering and aerodynamics, but into the materials we use, the modelling behind the design, and the optimisation of the solar cells that power the car."

"The cumulative effect is, we think, a radical, race-winning design that also incorporates elements that could be used more widely in a low-carbon future. No British team has won this race before, but there is no reason why we can't be the first to do it."

Explore further: Student team unveils world's first solar-powered family car

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User comments : 18

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antialias_physorg
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 05, 2013
I hope they do well. Up till now Japan and the Netherlands have almost always taken first prize (and the record for average speed is still held by TU Delft at over 100km/h !)

Taking their idea further it would be interesting to build something using concentrated PV cells and placing rotating (fresnel) lenses on the surface of the car to follow the sun.
VENDItardE
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 05, 2013
.a total waste of limited resources
geokstr
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 05, 2013
Where's the windmill? Does it just come with the optional hyperpower package?
antialias_physorg
3.5 / 5 (8) Jul 05, 2013
.a total waste of limited resources

Funny. By that logic you should have shot yourself in the head a long time ago...

I'm really getting sick of people not appreciating scientific curiosity. If you don't ike science - why are you on a science website?
Eikka
2 / 5 (4) Jul 05, 2013
I'm really getting sick of people not appreciating scientific curiosity. If you don't ike science - why are you on a science website?


Technically speaking, this isn't science - this is engineering. They aren't out there to study something new or fundamental in a rigorous fashion - they're there to use something that is already available and on the shelf to build a car to win a race. By that token, NASCAR should be called science if this is.

Certainly they employ the products of science, but in itself the whole race is just about engineering a solar powered car. Unfortunately all the Mythbusters and Bang Goes the Theory, or Brainiac etc. popular media have created a misconception that whenever someone puts some elaborate contraption together, or performs a demonstration of some known principle, it's Science with a capital S.

It's not - it's mostly just party tricks.
Eikka
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 05, 2013
Here's one way of defining scientific inquiry:

The goal of a scientific inquiry is to obtain knowledge in the form of testable explanations that can predict the results of future experiments.


If you're building the world's fastest car, or doing the world's highest parachute jump, or trying to get as far as possible on a drop of fuel, what exactly is the question you're trying to answer, or the phenomenon you're trying to explain?

Science usually happens when someone asks why does this thing work. In engineering, you already know why it works, although that isn't strictly necessary for the purpose of engineering; the actual question is how do -you- make it work.

That's why things like the solar challenge, or the Shell eco marathon do very little to advance science. The effort people put into them goes not towards science, but merely the application of the results of science. They simply demonstrate that which is already known, just like a Royal Academy physics lecture.
antialias_physorg
3.3 / 5 (4) Jul 05, 2013
Most of science is trying new combinations of (known) things.
"...on the shoulders of giants" and all that.
If you were to limit science to anything that is totally new from a to z then you'd have zero papers left (not even the paper on relativity would then classify as science)
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 05, 2013
Most of science is trying new combinations of (known) things.


...in order to explain something unknown.

Engineering is not explaining. Engineering is building. It's about getting something done instead of gaining new knowledge. If you learn something new that nobody knew before, that's fine, but when you're building a solar racer, you're not asking the sort of questions in a way that would make it science. That's the difference.

VENDItardE
1 / 5 (5) Jul 05, 2013
anti...i don't understand how such a screaming liberal nutbag as yourself can ORETEND to be reasobable so many different times. Are you the sanest of the maggnus, deepsand, neinsense, vendicarE sockpuppets or just a total windbag?
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2013
...in order to explain something unknown.

Not necessarily explain. Consider my own work: I found a novel segmentation algorithm for a structure that people were unable to segment in medical data until that time. The algorithm itself is based on a combination of (previously known) algorithms - none of which were capable of the feat - and a small extension which is wholly original.

Is that science? Definitely, since it did something no one was capable of doing before.
Did it explain something unknown? No.

The guys in this article are taking known components and are trying something that is unknown: will such a combination be better than the established approach?

That is knowledge in the making - and exactly what science means ("creating knowledge").

Engineering is building. It's about getting something done

Engineering is having requirements and fulfilling them with known methods/practices. Building stuff according to recipe.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2013
.i don't understand how such a screaming liberal nutbag as yourself can ORETEND to be reasobable so many different times. Are you the sanest of the maggnus, deepsand, neinsense, vendicarE sockpuppets or just a total windbag?

You are trying to understand something? You? Someone who has created a sockpuppet by taking someone else's name and adding a 'tard'? Someone as childish as that? Really? You are trying to talk to me? You've GOT to be kidding.

Go away. Play your sockpuppet and troll-games somewhere else.
alfie_null
not rated yet Jul 06, 2013
.a total waste of limited resources

Funny. By that logic you should have shot yourself in the head a long time ago...

Hmm... In the spirit of scientific inquiry, consider doing this and letting us know if it makes you more or less coherent.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2013
Consider my own work: I found a novel segmentation algorithm for a structure that people were unable to segment in medical data until that time. The algorithm itself is based on a combination of (previously known) algorithms - none of which were capable of the feat - and a small extension which is wholly original.

Is that science? Definitely, since it did something no one was capable of doing before.
Did it explain something unknown? No.


No. What you did there was software engineering. Simply achieving something new is not science.

Science does explain. That's the whole point of science. If you don't answer questions and explain phenomena to aquire new knowledge about it with your research, or at least confirming existing knowledge by running experiments for the purpose of peer review, you're not doing science. Without this distinction, you could call everything "science" that puts two and two together.

By your definition, a novel LEGO house would be science.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2013
Engineering is having requirements and fulfilling them with known methods/practices. Building stuff according to recipe.


Engineering is also developing and building the tools and methods to fullfill the requirements where known methods and practices fail.

Science is developing a theory that explains how carbon nanotubes form, and why they are so strong - what makes them work.

Engineering is developing the means to embed carbon nanotubes into aluminium in order to make the world's strongest flywheel.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2013
No. What you did there was software engineering.

The scientists judging my work didn't think so (neither the ones handing me my PhD, nor the peers that judged my work for inclusion in conferences or journals). And I'll take their word over yours in that regard any day.

Science is developing a theory that explains how carbon nanotubes form, and why they are so strong - what makes them work.

I think that's very stringent definition that no scientist would agree with (and you aren't one, so I think you're not qualified to have a qualified opinion on that in any case.).
There is more to science than theoretical physics.

Science is about aquiring new knowledge. And that can be experimental as well as theoretical (or combination of the two)

a novel LEGO house would be science

Since it doesn't aquire new knowledge - no,

geokstr
1 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2013
Yes, we dasn't restrict what we deign to call "science".

After all, agitprop development and historical revision pass for "science" these days, as reported here every day about the exciting new findings and "studies" in feminist and racial psychology, political "science", social "science", economic "science" and "Other".

Facts, evidence and "science" must really have a leftwing bias, as every single one of the articles here on this "science" site slant towards the Collective. It proves the consensus of all true "scientists" that we've always been at war with Eastasia.

The only thing Orwell got wrong was the year.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2013
Science is about aquiring new knowledge. And that can be experimental as well as theoretical (or combination of the two)


I'm glad we agree. However, by the same token you admit that what you were doing was not science, or you explained your situation in a confusing way. By your previous definition, simply achieving something novel by any means is science. It's not. Science first asks a question, then presents a hypothesis that explains the situation, and then experiments to see if it works that way.

You can formulate a software engineering problem in a scientific way and then write a PhD about it, that's for sure, but simply making a novel algorithm is not science even though it gains you new knowledge, and anyone who pretends that it is is a charlatan.

Think about it; if you figure out something new by accident while toying around with your computer, or mixing random liquids from your garage, is that science, or just a happy coincidence?

Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2013
and you aren't one, so I think you're not qualified to have a qualified opinion on that in any case


If only scientists have the authority to define what science is (and by proxy, who is a scientist), then we're in deep ontological trouble.

A scientist is who employs the scientific method to answer questions and gain knowledge. If you can't show the scientific method being used to solve a particular problem, then the solution does not employ science.

So, where and how is the scientific method used in (a) the solar racer, and (b) in the development of your algorithm?

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