UNSW students and their solar-powered car, ‘Violet'. Photo: Quentin Jones

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BY JOSEPH FENAUGHTY

A group of UNSW students decided that doing a full time engineering degree is not enough of a workload for them, so they built a solar car to enter the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
The car they built, a four-door sedan named ‘Violet’, looks like most cars you see on the road, with the exception of the roof – which is completely covered in solar panels.
The group of students behind this incredible vehicle form this year’s Sunswift team, which was founded in 1995 with the pure aim of winning the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
Most of their cars from this period were designed to carry one driver and were not particularly comfortable. However, in 2013 their focus shifted with the creation of ‘Eve’, a two-seater that resembled a normal road car with the potential to be commercialised.
‘Eve’ was also the first zero-emissions, road-legal vehicle to be solar powered, and broke the world record for travelling at an average of 100kmph over 500km on a single charge.
Violet is a natural progression from there.
The outstanding feature of Violet is that it is a four-door, four-seater car, uncommon in solar-panel cars entering solar races. It has a top speed of 130kmph and can run for 800km at a time on solar or 400km on its battery alone.
When driving at under 60kmph, the car can run completely on solar power without using its battery and can completely recharge its own battery when left in the sun.
“Violet looks like a family sedan, but uses as much power as a four-slice toaster,” said Sunswift team leader Simba Kuestler. “She’s got entertainment and air conditioning systems, including navigation, reverse camera parking sensors; there’s even Wi-Fi aboard. And she’s got plenty of front and rear boot space.”
All this gear does not come cheap though, and the budget for the project was $480,000.
It hasn’t all been sunny skies for the team, however as they had some issues during testing at Eastern Creek Raceway. A suspender on the front left side of the car fractured during high-speed brake testing, causing the car to drop onto the roadway and slide 30 metres. None of the crew or students was hurt and Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering, said the challenge was a learning opportunity.
“The car is operating at the cutting-edge of what’s possible,” he said, “and the students are putting it through strenuous testing ahead of a race where they will face intense conditions, so it’s no surprise they will face setbacks.
“That’s what an engineering degree should be about, learning about demanding, real-world challenges.” Despite the setback, Violet will be ready to go come race day, thanks to the hard work of undergraduate students who spent their nights and weekends working on getting the car back on the road.
The team are currently driving Violet up to Darwin to get to the World solar race, which has 47 teams from 21 nations as well as Australia.
The teams will race 3,021 km from Darwin to Adelaide and it will be Sunswift’s ninth Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, with the team gaining many podium finishes in the past.
As stated on the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge website, “Based on the original notion that a 1000W car would complete the journey in 50 hours, solar cars are allowed a nominal 5kW hours of stored energy, which is 10% of that theoretical figure.
“All other energy must come from the sun or be recovered from the kinetic energy of the vehicle.”
The cars entering the competition are amongst the most energy-efficient electric vehicles in the world.