Students launch aero-dynamic solar racer

‘Evolution’ is the most competitive entry yet from Cambridge University Eco Racing for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.


Evolution at King's College NSH

Stronger for its battle-scars, the Cambridge University Eco-Racing Team (CUER) is determined to show that innovation, backed by solid engineering, will give their new vehicle Evolution the edge at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2015 from 18-25 October – a biennial endurance event across the harsh Australian outback.

CUER is a 60 strong student organisation that designs, builds and races vehicles that are powered by the sun, aiming to demonstrate the incredible potential of electric vehicles. In 2013 the team’s hopes were dashed dramatically after a crash during road testing in Australia raised concerns over the car’s stability.

CUER team HA

[Image shows, from left: Adam Gristock, Deputy Director and Project Manager; Jack Fielder, Testing Manager; Alexander Wright, Electrical Team; Simon Schofield, Tech Manager; Michael Wheeldon, Mechanical Manager; Giovanni Bergamo Andreis, Mechanical Team; Aurelia Hibbert, Programme Director]

Refinements and improvements

 Driver Alan Jamieson says that rigorous testing has identified the cause of the problem and this has been addressed through a refinement of the design and stringent quality control. New enhancements will ensure that Evolution, the new vehicle, will hold the road and its own against stiff competition.

Amy Livingstone, Head of the Electrical Team, explains: “Our main focus this time has been on improving the reliability of the electronics and there has been a 15% improvement in base power consumption.

“Our space grade solar array is cutting edge and has been rotated by 90 degrees to reduce shading due to the Fresnel losses in the canopy. The battery is of the best energy density available so that has been retained.

“We’ve worked on revamping the driver controls to make it more intuitive to use and a higher resolution screen has allowed us to integrate a rear view camera into the dashboard to improve visibility, which is much needed on the roads in the dusty Australian outback.”

Alan continues: “The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is one of the toughest in the world. It is 3,000km with dust, fierce cross winds, bush fires and these long road trains of carriages which, as they pass, you can feel the buffeting effect of even in a Land Rover.

“We had beaten all expectations to get our vehicle Resolution to Australia in 2013 – we had designed the car from scratch and built it in a year. It was completely different to anything that had gone before; it was smaller, lighter, with an efficient array of solar cells that could position themselves towards the sun. It attracted a lot of attention.

“But a big issue was, unlike the big teams participating, we were trying to study, fundraise and build the car in our spare time. Parts were delayed and the car wasn’t completely made when we began test-driving. Also our driving team was relatively ‘young’ in terms of experience; for example one of our drivers signed up before she even had her driving licence!”

Crashing and rebuilding

Alan CUERAlan (pictured right) arrived in Darwin just after an accident during testing of Resolution and the team were told if they could fix it in a week they could still enter. “It was an intensive week and we impressed the officials who said ‘you’ve pulled it out of the bag and got the car together again’.”

After repairs it was ready for the go/no go decision. “I put it through some exacting testing for the Chief Safety Officer. Although drivable it was deemed for technical reasons unable to compete in the main event; our chance to demonstrate the results of over two years’ work was gone.

“It was easily one of the biggest disappointments of my life. Back in the UK the team was very, very down and many moved on.”

CUER has since rebuilt the team and thoroughly tested the 2013 car. It was found that a high centre of mass, combined with multiple issues of dynamics, lead to the instability when cornering; Resolution’s go-kart-like handling was inappropriate for the long, narrow car. The re-designed vehicle Evolution has been built to exacting standards, which take into account the lessons learnt from testing and getting to experience conditions in Australia.

Alan says: “We went to Jaguar Land Rover one weekend and staff came in just to be there and help us, they let us use the environmental chamber to replicate conditions in Australia. I sat in the car to see how hot it would get and see how much the driver could handle. I was blown away that they were this massive company but they gave us their time and facilities to help.”



Support and sponsors

Andrew Foster, Chief Engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, says he has been impressed with the team’s creativity, ambition and determination. “Our research team has provided assistance on calculations, making models for the wind tunnel and rapid prototyping for some of the components. Working alongside experts and being hands-on with problem solving is invaluable to creating a well-rounded engineer.” The students have also had the opportunity to pitch their ideas and bid for funding, important skills for business.

The involvement of Jaguar Land Rover has encouraged niche specialists to support the team.

Michael Collins, Sales and Marketing Director of Penso, comments that his business is heavily involved in next generation material development. He says: “There is a requirement to make cars lighter by 2020 and this is increasing interest in the use of composites. We have shown the team how to machine the moulds and layup the composite material to get a good finish and a better material. There is a shortage of people with this knowledge and the technology is applicable to different industries.

“A significant investment of our time has been required but there are some innovative lightweight structures in the car which are of real interest to us and we are planning to take the vehicle to JEC World, the largest composite show in Europe, when we attend next year.”

Allan Carmichael of the Technology Partnership plc (TTP), which has provided training, says: “This is engineering in practice, similar to the demands of a commercial environment – a team facing demanding challenges to a tough deadline – a perfect opportunity for a novice engineer to develop technically and professionally.”

Marshall, Hibbert, Schofield nshChristopher Walkinshaw, Group Corporate Communications Director at Marshall, agrees. The Cambridge-based engineering company employs 4,500 people in the UK and overseas and provides CUER with workshop space.

[Pictured right: Robert Marshall, Group Chief Executive Marshall of Cambridge, with Aurelia Hibbert and Simon Schofield, CUER]

“Our hope is that the team have a successful campaign, completing the testing, solving the many challenges and getting both the car and the team to the start line in Australia.  Of course we want them to do really well in the Challenge but the project is also about much more than turning up on the line and driving 3,000 km. It has been very hard work. They have some great people, doing amazing things in many different ways, all of which plays a vital part in the success of the team. We hope they come out of it feeling really proud of all their achievements.”

Innovation and efficiency

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge Event Director, Chris Selwood, congratulated the Cambridge University team on the unveiling of their new car: “We are very proud of the Cambridge team who have been bold enough to go their own way, push the boundaries of accepted wisdom and seek innovative and creative solutions to the design conundrums we set.

“Of course that approach has its risks, and success is not always assured, but the experience, opportunity and the potential for reward it delivers can never be underestimated. The design is unique and the advances and quality of this iteration are significant. Their arrival in Australia is eagerly anticipated and I very much look forward to the successful endeavours of this exceptional Cambridge University team.”

Aurelia with EvolutionThe first full-time Programme Director for CUER is Aurelia Hibbert (pictured left), second year engineering student at Newnham College. She says the team is working around the clock to get their ultra-lightweight racing car ready for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2015, a gruelling 3,000 km endurance event across the Australian outback.

“The race is biennial; as a student society we lose knowledge and skills at the end of each year when many of our core team graduate and leave the university. We have managed to secure funding for the role of a full-time team leader and this will make a huge difference. I feel excited and a bit daunted by the role; it is a fantastic opportunity.”

The team has recently gained the backing of BNY Mellon, who join an impressive collection of industry champions supporting the team.

Scott Stevens, BNY Mellon says: “By designing a car to run on solar power alone, CUER is driving the step changes in vehicle efficiency and new technologies for a low-carbon future. Their passion for innovation in clean technology is truly awe-inspiring.

“We’ve seen the early designs and believe the CUER team has an incredible opportunity to do extremely well in this year’s race.”

Aurelia has high hopes for the 2015 race: “We have a strong engineering team, experienced drivers and an exciting and innovative entry for the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge – the next few months of testing at the Jaguar Land Rover wind tunnel facilities and on the track at the Millbrook Proving Ground will be crucial in ensuring that we deliver our most competitive, efficient and reliable vehicle yet.”

©2015 Holdsworth Associates