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Power Technology

World Solar Challenge Started in Australian Desert 113

photonic writes "The World Solar Challenge has just finished the first racing day. It is a 3000 kilometer race from Darwin to Adelaide for cars that are powered by solar energy only. The results from this day have not yet been published, but intermediate results suggest that the Dutch Nuon Solar Team is again on the lead. This team from Delft University of Technology has a reputation to uphold since they also won the previous two races in 2001 and 2003, the last one in a record breaking 97 km/h average. The Tesseract team from MIT was less fortunate: during the qualification they got off track and rolled over. After some fixing up they still managed to qualify into 7th place on battery power, but with substantial damage to the solar panel their challenge will be finishing rather than winning."
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World Solar Challenge Started in Australian Desert

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  • by Itchy Rich ( 818896 ) on Sunday September 25, 2005 @01:50PM (#13645309)

    That's not to take anything away from these engineers. To the contrary, it shows how little they have to work with. But solar cars are simply and provably not the future.

    You're right in that this particular application probably wouldn't find commercial success, but that doesn't mean the technology and engineering techniques these people develop wont be of use in other areas. Technology has a fascinating habit of jumping application boundaries.

  • new hybrids? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lem0n263 ( 915429 ) on Sunday September 25, 2005 @02:05PM (#13645396)
    i for one am for the race... of course it will be a long time like the previous posters said... but hey.... how about a couple solar pannels on cars?? It doesn't have to be fully dependent on solar energy... must like the hybrids of today....once the technology gets better... you get the idea... Like the idea of solar powered shingles for houses to reduce energy costs... just the little things to reduce overall consumption of fossil fuels...especially if you are every hurricane season paying $3.00+ for gas....not to mention the cost for heating in the winter....
  • by chivo243 ( 808298 ) on Sunday September 25, 2005 @02:06PM (#13645398)
    Free of the SUV? Fat Chance....
  • by FinalMidnight ( 652617 ) on Sunday September 25, 2005 @02:30PM (#13645522)
    Sir, respectfully, you are talking through your hat. This specific solar car race has inspired the development of a 98% efficiency electrical drive system. The skills to build electrical drives of this type at any size, for any application were gained by building one-of-a-kind prototype solar cars. This motor is now a standard COTS product that is used by just about all solar car teams. In the future production lines will be producing tens of thousands of motors based on this very design. That will very much make the world a better place. Unfortunately, all the real development has already been done. Now, using standard parts, bought off the shelf, a car can be built that travels at the posted speed limits and still charge the battery. The method for building a successful solar car has been reduced to a formula: Use THESE solar cells, THAT motor/controller package and have a body shaped like THIS, for slippery aerodynamics. Even so, many teams manage to produce poor efforts. For example: Aerodynamic crosswind loading is responsible for many accidents. The Fuji Xerox Desert Rose, which is now more than six years old, could (if it were running) compete favorably with the field of todays cars. This is a car that was built six years ago for less than $40K using second hand, hand-me-down solar cells from another university team. The Current teams are running cells that generate about three times the power. The Solar Car race is now merely a quaint anachronism. The rules body actively moves to stifle any true innovation, much like Formula 1 racing etc.
  • Solar trains (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drwho ( 4190 ) on Sunday September 25, 2005 @04:53PM (#13646271) Homepage Journal
    I was reading about this race, and the cars involved, and the comments here on slashdot about "it
    s not the future" because the cars are too slow. That may be true.

    But what about solar trains? I know that rail systems tend to be designed with as little rolling friction as possible, so that most of the work involved is overcoming intertia. Imagine a train, with solar cells on the roof of each boxcar connected to an electric locomotive on one end or the other. It would start like one of those circus stunts of a guy pulling a rain car with his teeth, i.e. very slowly but the solar cells powering the electric locomotives gradually add some good momentum, and things start moving at a good clip. When night falls, they gradually slow down, and come to a stop for the night.

    Imagine that this is continuous, on a homogenous all-solar rail system. Because of the relative uniformity of solar radiation within the medium range, the movement of the various trains on the track will be fairly uniform. Trains should seldom have to brake, and even this braking could be be harnessed, the electric motors used as slow brakes and generators, storing the energy in batteries.

    Of course, these trains would be slow. It might take weeks for cargo to get from one end of australia or the US to another. It would also only work where the rail system is pretty flat, unless the aformentioned recovery of inertia can be done with high efficieny and capacity.

    It could be useful for commodities that don't have to move fast. Things like ores. Not things like food, which would go bad.

    I guess the largest problem with this idea is that it would require a separate rail system, to keep the fast trains from being stuck behind these slow movers. Building such a rail system is expensive.
  • by Hosiah ( 849792 ) on Sunday September 25, 2005 @05:59PM (#13646589)
    Here in the US, the plan seems to be to conquor the entire planet and pirate fossil fuels until the last drop is used...after which time, I wonder what plan B is? Scoop up corpes of vanquished third-world citizens and burn them, too? The heck with Soylent Green, we'll be too busy converting corpses into Soylent Gas, instead.

    I remember reading about Australia's solar-powered car race back in the 80's in the Smithsonian. Naive child that I was, then, I thought, "Wow! If they're doing that already, it can't be five years until we see them on the streets in the US!"

    Now, every time I bring this up, I hear "Aw, you can't drive from 'Frisco to Vegas in a single day in a solar-powered car!", so I'll cut out the middle man: You can keep your gas-guzzler for cross-country runs, industrial/commercial use, and off-road exploring. I'm talking about city-use only with these. The average urban dweller just needs to get around town, for driving times of less than 40 minutes each, on roads with lots of stop-and-go driving and speed limits 45 MPH or less - not counting the freeway (In places like LA, the freeways work out exactly the same, anyway, thanks to traffic!). To and from work, the store, appointments, etc. A hybrid electric-solar urban vehicle could be light (about half the raw materials we currently use), two-passenger (who needs the extra seats when most folks wouldn't car-pool if there were a gun to their heads?), and would only need to store a maximum of three or four hours charge (when was the last time you Big City types had a commute longer than that?). The expensive part comes in upgrading all the parking spaces - installing an outlet in each one. The car could locate the sensor whenever it's parked and automatically plug itself in, whenever it detects that it's low on juice. The cost is offset by the parking meters - which we already have all over the place downtown, anyway.

    The heck with the future - we should have started doing this ten years ago! Don't give me the usual Slashdot chant: "Can't happen! Won't work! Impossible!" Apply the freakin' science already! Instead of gas running you several hundred dollars a week, you could pay half that in taxes to fund this project.

  • Re:Building One (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cbc1920 ( 730236 ) on Sunday September 25, 2005 @08:01PM (#13647215)
    The biggest rules limiting design are the following: Car size: 1.8x5m, 2m high. The size limit is for obvious reasons- without it, they cars would get huge. driver position: eye height 0.7m, head behind and above knees, ground visibility 8m ahead. Purely safety- the driver can't see what's going on if he's 2" off the pavement, and a headfirst seating position is incredibly dangerous in any crash. Other than that, all of the rules just say that your car has to be electrically and mechanically safe, with battery monitoring and a full roll cage. The officials encourage innovation, as long as the end result is still a safe car. As far as your question about ride height, it is mostly determined by the size of the tires and the eye height requirement. Yes, lower is better, but get too low and your wheels are coming through your array and your driver's cockpit stick out 2 feet! If you look at the top 5 cars in the field, they are engineering marvels, both in aerodynamics and weight reduction. Believe me, nothing goes on these cars without a very good reason.
  • by |>>? ( 157144 ) on Monday September 26, 2005 @12:02AM (#13648267) Homepage
    No they don't they already have google maps: []
  • Re:Building One (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Infinityis ( 807294 ) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:40AM (#13648888) Homepage
    Most all the rules are there to ensure safety and/or fairness. If there are any rules that are a problem, it would be the fairness ones, but in the context of a race, they are required. If you are designing your own solar vehicle, you would neither need nor want ballast bags to bring up the driver weight to minimum value. Also, awhile back, a team did quite well with an aerodynamic solar car that basically didn't have any solar cells except in the trunk. When they wanted to charge, they stopped, unfolded the array, and got a quick charge. This seemed to work well for them, and if I recall correctly, it was a bout of bad weather that ended up costing them the race. However, the idea was quite novel and fell within the rules of the race. But the next racing season, the rules had been adapted so that the array cannot be reconfigured during the race. In the name of fairness, that innovation fell by the wayside. However, rules aside, there are more dynamics involved in why teams design the way that they do. Students are oftentimes busy people, trying to both do their schoolwork and build a solar car within a limited timeframe, and particularly with limited funds. If something worked on a previous car, and the winners of the last race had something similar, then it's usually not something that will change. The lack of funding can often lead to inferior design, simply because not every team can afford to have the best batteries, the best solar cells, the lightest materials, etc. The (self-inflicted) pressure to win often pushes ideas that are different, or ideas "that have been tried before" without success, even if the previous idea may have simply been a poor implementation. There is not much time or money to experiment with all the different ideas that someone may want to try. So, for the most part, everyone takes good ideas from the winners and implements it for themselves. Occasionally, big changes occur, but by and large, the sport has matured beyond the awkward stage where all the cars are trying a different shape, etc. For example, in most all the American Solar Challenge cars, you'll find a New Generation Motor (NGM), simply because it works, it's one of the few motors designed for solar car racing, and it solves a lot of problems for the teams building a car from scratch.

Have you ever noticed that the people who are always trying to tell you `there's a time for work and a time for play' never find the time for play?