A solar racing car named “Violet” developed by a team of students from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) will in one week’s time race against competitors from 30 countries approximately 3,000km across the searing Australian desert.
With a theoretical top speed of 130km/hr and up to 1,200km driving range using the solar array built into its roof, Violet will make the attempt to floor its competitors in the biannual Bridgestone Solar Challenge race from Darwin to Adelaide in mid-October.
Sporting a number of upgrades since its last attempt at completing the gruelling race in 2017, the team of students behind this cutting edge racing car are hoping for the chance to take line honours in the challenge which is a competition to build the most efficient, practical solar car possible.
In 2018, the Sunswift team carved a new world record in vehicle efficiency, cracking a tiny 3.25kWh in energy consumption per 100km driving from Perth to Sydney in December 2018.
But despite this accolade, the upcoming solar challenge will be tough: a number of new regulations for the 2019 race mean that there are restrictions on when vehicles can stop and recharge.
To do that, cars must travel around 1,000km without recharging the battery for each leg of the race, stopping only at Tennant Creek and Coober Pedy to recharge between sunset and 11pm.
To successfully complete the challenge, the team must ensure that they efficiently use energy stored in the battery, with only power gathered from the sun to recharge the battery in between these stops.
Reuben Hacket, a third year electrical engineering student on the 23-strong student team, says he was inspired to become involved in the UNSW Sunswift team by tales from his grandfather, who competed in the first Solar Challenge in 1987.
“I thought it would be an interesting fun journey driving around the outback in a car that you’d built and designed yourself,” he says.
Speaking with The Driven, he explains that the new regulations have forced a number of innovations to enable the vehicle to perform under the strict conditions.
Improvements to the vehicle centre around resistance to rolling, battery technology and cruise control.
Although he can’t say much about the improvements to the vehicle, they “affect distance and reliability,” he says, adding that, “[1,000km] is much more than you get from a Tesla or another EV on the market.”
“This is the most significant change from the 2017 regulations.”
Competing in the Cruiser class, the Sunswift team will push Violet replete in brand new livery to prove she is the most practical and energy efficient vehicle in the race.
Hackett, who will sit behind the wheel alongside fellow team member Jed Cruikshank, is confident.
“We built this for the 2017 Solar Challenge and have been improving it ever since then,” says Hackett.
“We’ve been testing it for a week now – we left Sydney on Wednesday and have been testing around Coober Pedy.
“We know our car is reliable, it has done heaps of kilometres and we’ve been working on improving it to make it as competitive as possible.”
Violet will face a scrutineering crew next week in preparation for the race itself starting October 13, 2019.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.