A team of Western Sydney University students are driving the way in innovation.
The 22 member Solar Car Project team – including students from the fields of Engineering, Industrial Design and Visual Communications – are building a solar powered car to enter in the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Car Challenge from October 8-15.
The students manage every aspect of the production and design of the vehicle, as well as sponsorships, marketing and the administrative elements of their involvement in the challenge.
Mario Trape of Rooty Hill is in his third year of a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) degree. “Engineering is my life,” the international student from Brazil said.
The 21-year-old began his first engineering internship as a student of a technical high school in Brazil at the age of 13. He is the electrical lead of the solar car project with the responsibility of ensuring the electrical systems within the solar car are functioning correctly.
“All aspects of the electrical systems – the circuits, batteries – are all thoroughly stress tested before they are fitted to the car. This is essential, to ensure that each element of the car is functioning and, mostly importantly, to ensure that the drivers will be safe,” Mr Trape said.
Team mate Grace Mitchell is the graphic lead. The 19-year-old is responsible for constructing a new website for the solar car team, as well as designing the livery of the vehicle.
The Quakers Hill resident said the design of the body of the car is under wraps until the official launch event in August, but she is excited to see it all come together.
“I’ve been working on a really interesting new design for the solar car, and I’m so excited that my design will be seen on a global scale,” she said. “Of all the practical work that I get to do in my degree, with this project I can say that my work is going towards something real.”
Ms Mitchell is also being considered as one of the race drivers for the Solar Car Challenge.
As the mechanical lead, Daniel Nemec, 21, is responsible for the manufacturing process of the solar car and ensuring the vehicle is mechanically sound.
The Bella Vista resident said he particularly enjoys being involved in producing a new product – from design to prototype and client delivery phase.
“I was definitely excited about joining the solar car team and being a fully-fledged member,” he said.
He was first involved in the University’s Solar Car Project as a high school student at Penrith High School in 2015.
“One of my friends was introduced to a member of the Solar Car team, and I became involved as well,” he said. “Mostly, I was on the sideline of the team, watching how it all worked. I was also involved in building solar go-karts.”
He was also involved in a project where he designed a voice amplification device for people living with Dysphonia – a physical disorder of the mouth, tongue, throat or vocal cords that makes speech difficult.
AJ Verma from the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics (SCEM) led the Solar Car Project in 2015 and is now a SCEM staff member supporting the 2017 team.
The Bachelor of Engineering graduate says the team are in a race against time to finish building the solar car and get it to Darwin.
“We used the massive industrial ovens at Innovation Composites to dry and set the car’s carbon fibre body. The team travelled to Nowra to fit the wheels and suspension to the vehicle, so that its transportation to our Penrith campus lab would run as smoothly as possible,” he said.
“We have just shy of 70 days, and in that time the solar car team will be working round the clock, sleeping in the lab and working in shifts to get the vehicle ready.”
2017 marks the third time WSU have participated in the biannual Challenge – which involves a 3000km drive from Darwin to Adelaide using only solar power.
In 2013, western Sydney’s inaugural year, challenging weather conditions and mechanical issues led to the original vehicle, ‘SolAce’, being towed for a short time on the road to Adelaide. Despite these trials, the team finished in the top half of their class.
In 2015, the team ramped up their efforts and their increasing skill and confidence was evident in the design of its second vehicle. ‘UNLIMITED’ crashed after a suspension failure but was speedily repaired and crossed the finishing line in tenth place out of 43 teams out on the field.
In 2017, the team is a more experience, professional unit. Mr Verma says the team is in a very competitive position, and is very positive about their chances this year.
“In 2013, SolAce had a max speed of 110km per hour, and weighed 300kg. In 2015, UNLIMITED had a max speed of 129km per hour, and weighed 170kg,” Mr Verma said.
“In each outing, the car has evolved. This time, we’ve worked to improve every aspect at a fundamental level to create a more cohesive package – every detail counts, every single gram, and the result will be the most efficient car we’ve ever made.”