Driving with the power of light – could Cambridge's solar car rocket into victory?

Posted 10 Jul 2013 by Sue Keogh in General news

Current sunny spells gracing Cambridgeshire have been a welcome weather change for many, and these brighter skies couldn’t have come at a better time for the group of students at the University of Cambridge working on this year’s World Solar Challenge entry.

A solar-powered car race, the World Solar Challenge 2013 will see 47 teams from 26 countries battle across the 3,000km of Australian outback between Darwin and Adelaide using nothing but sunlight for fuel.

Despite having been held biennially since 1987 Britain is yet to emerge victorious from the challenge (perhaps a reflection of our more overcast practice conditions). However, this year Cambridge hopes to conquer the race with their entry, Resolution, by offering something a little different.

The unique teardrop shape of Resolution is their secret weapon, one which will certainly stand out among the conventionally flat-shaped cars. Traditionally solar car entries have had a fixed, level body in order to harness as much power as possible from the sun. By drawing a compromise between harnessing power and a smoother aerodynamic shape the Cambridge team wish to rewrite the rulebook on designing green vehicles.

Not that the team’s design has sacrificed power from aerodynamics, taking strength from efficiency rather than force. Resolution is fitted with an aft-facing tracking plate which will follow the sun’s trajectory by moving the panels into the optimum position at all times. It’s estimated that this movement should give the car an additional 20% power as opposed to having fixed plates within the car.

Crossing the 3,000km track may be a claustrophobic journey for the driver, Lucy Fielding, as the car measures just 1.1m in height, 5m long, and 0.8m wide. In fact the interior is so compact that you’ll only fit inside if you’re less than 5’3” tall yourself.

The tight fit does mean that Resolution weighs a mere 120kg, according to Cambridge, allowing it to travel motorway speeds of 70mph. Shockingly, these high speeds require roughly the same power as a hairdryer to reach.

A extra element that Cambridge have added to ensure they are driving the most efficiently is an on-board telemetry, a system which gives intelligent cruise control to advise the team how to optimise the vehicle’s output during the race by analysing traffic, weather, and driving style.

“What makes Resolution really special that in the past 12 months, 60 graduate and undergraduate students have worked together – for the first time designing, developing, and fundraising for this fantastic solar-powered car whilst staying on top of their university work,” says Cambridge Phenomenon’s Charles Cotton, who is on Resolution’s advisory board and was present at its launch in early July.

Looking like a rocket being sucked into a black hole it feels as if the team added wings the entire craft could take off in true Jetsons style – but for now all that can be said is that Cambridge have a good chance of winning this year, and best of luck to them.

[Image courtesy of the University of Cambridge]