The Cambridge University Eco Racing team (CUER) is a student society with a difference. They are designing and building a solar powered car to race across Australia at the World Solar Challenge in October 2009.
A new team – only formed in January 2007 – the Cambridge engineering students have already built Affinity, a prototype car, and driven it End to End, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. “We built the car in nine months for a practice run, which was very successful,” explained Anthony Law, Team Manager for 2008-09. “We got good media coverage and it was great experience for the team working on a real-life project.
“Now we’re running five research projects during the summer, with a further 10 next year. The difference for CUER is that the planning and build is integrated into the students’ academic work, which we hope will give us the edge. And we’re already seeing some exciting results.”
Anthony and his Technical Director, Charlie Watt, couldn’t manage such a complex set of projects without applications that allow everyone to work together when they’re scattered across the country.
“We use Microsoft Office Professional 2007 and Project 2007 to organise the team,” Anthony said. “It’s especially important during the summer vacation when members aren’t on campus. Managing everyone means we have to use proper project management, and Project allows us to do that easily. This type of project just wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.”
Building a solar powered car means big bucks are required. The regulation six square metres of satellite-standard solar cells costs £300,000 so CUER are not only engineers, but also sponsorship and PR managers.
“To keep our sponsors up to date, we produce a number of publications and newsletters, for which we use Microsoft Publisher,” said Anthony.
Another important aim of CUER is to engage in outreach and community work. They’ve already visited eight schools where they run solar buggy workshops. “It’s important to encourage young people to think about sustainable transportation and to show them that engineering is exciting – that it uses cutting edge technology,” he said.
The whole project is student-led and as well as engineering students, includes geographers, lawyers, arts students, and MBA students from the Judge Business School. Individual research projects are supervised by academics whose input is generally to offer advice and guidance. Anthony continued: “There’s a huge amount of interest across the university, and this is a new thing for us, to run 10-15 projects all focused on one goal.”
The World Solar Challenge takes place from Darwin to Adelaide covering around 3,000 kilometres of outback. Solar technology has improved since the first race took place in 1987. Then the top speed would typically be 60 kilometres per hour; in 2007 it was up to 91 kilometres per hour. But as the cars travel on public roads, they have to stick to the speed limit! Anthony explained that the race regulations are changing to become more practical and to acknowledge the new efficiency of solar cells.
Favourite fact? They can travel at 50mph using the same amount of power as a hairdryer! How so? A combination of a sleek, aerodynamic shape, lightweight materials, and efficient electronics ensure that the sun’s energy is not wasted and is all used to drive the car forwards.