Cambridge University has unveiled a solar-powered car that’s touted as Britain’s brightest hope for a 3,000-kilometre race across the Australian Outback this autumn.
Previously codenamed “Bethany,” but launched under its official name — “Endeavour” — the solar racing car reaches speeds of 60 mph using the same power as a hairdryer. It was created by Cambridge students and unveiled this week by F1 World Championship leader Jenson Button at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
One of the projects marking Cambridge’s 800th anniversary, Endeavour is student team Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER)’s first-ever entry into Australia’s Global Green Challenge.
Named after the famous ship with which Captain Cook sailed from England to Australia, the car is powered entirely by solar energy captured by a 6-square-metre covering of high-efficiency silicon cells. Underneath this solar “skin,” the car is essentially an ultra-efficient electric vehicle, which designers say could provide a model for other forms of green transportation.
“There’s some very impressive technology in this racing car,” Button said. “It may be a world away from an F1 car in terms of power, but to get a car to drive at 60 mph using two horsepower takes cutting-edge engineering.”
“At a time when the automotive industry is being forced to look at a low-carbon future, our vehicle demonstrates the enormous potential of energy-efficient electric vehicle technologies,” said Anthony Law, the team manager of CUER. “Transportation currently accounts for about 35 per cent of the UK’s energy use, so this is obviously an area in which we can have a big impact on climate change.”
Using computer simulation software, the car’s designers optimised aerodynamics, rolling resistance, weight and electrical efficiency to minimise the vehicle’s energy requirements. Endeavour is also fitted with an energy-efficient hub motor, a control system to provide battery management and an electric braking system which generates energy.
The car weighs just 170 kilograms, and its creators estimate that it requires up to fifty times less power than a normal petrol-fuelled vehicle.
CUER has already designed the UK’s first and only road-legal solar-powered car, which was driven from Land’s End to John O’Groats last year. The new vehicle will be road-tested extensively in the coming months before being shipped to Australia for October’s race from Darwin to Adelaide.
Its creators hope that the innovations in Endeavour’s design will enable it to put in the best ever performance by a UK-manufactured vehicle, even though the team will be up against university and corporate teams that boast seven-figure budgets, dwarfing the students’ own self-raised corporate funds of about £250,000.
Four student drivers will pilot the vehicle across the Outback, working in four-hour shifts to cope with the intense heat. During the race, however, the drivers will only have to steer the car and stay alert, as it is fitted with an advanced cruise control system which will automatically adjust its speed according to road conditions and weather forecasts.
Some 75 students from across the university have been involved in designing or building the vehicle, supported by a network of corporate sponsors, including HP and Cambridge Precision, academics and specialist advisors.
The initiative is also one of more than 40 supported by the 2009 Fund, which has been set up to aid a wide range of university projects in honour of Cambridge’s 800th anniversary.