Engineering the World’s Fastest Solar Race Cars

THE OUTBACK AUSTRALIA The World Solar Challenge is the Formula 1 of solar cars. But this race is about so much more than just cars. It's about pushing the technology to the limit. Is that in locked position? That's right. Anything can happen. Oh my God. Accelerator and cruise do not respond. Get off the path. This is a tough race. It is the first, most difficult and most original solar race in the world. DEREK MULLER HOST – @VERITASIUM It goes all the way back to 1987 and it only gets harder.

DARWIN, AUSTRALIA Forty-four teams from 21 countries are located in the northern city of Darwin in Australia. They brought unique solar vehicles what they've been working on for years. The World Solar Challenge is every two years. MAUD DIEPEVEEN TEAM LEADER – VATTENFALL Every time there is a different team for building the car. It's amazing how much work goes into this. People have sometimes worked 80-hour workweeks to participate in this race. In a high-tech meeting of man and machine, they start a 3200km endurance race km heading south, right through the middle of the Outback. With the future in mind, they seek the technological boundaries.

But today they all have one dream, to be declared champion of the World Solar Challenge. THE WORLD SOLAR CUP HIDDEN VALLEY RACE TRACK DARWIN, AUSTRALIA We're in Hidden Valley, along with all the teams. We just passed a team or another team. I got a little nervous. EMIE KLEIN HOLKENBORG TEAM LID – PR – VATTENFALL Many of them are good competitors. This event is nothing if it's not about passion, the passion of these young people, who not only dream of cleaner and greener possibilities… CHRIS SELWOOD, RACE DIRECTOR …but make those dreams come true. The piston rod of the engine. Energy is so important to human civilization. When we learned to use fossil fuels, it led to the prosperity of today. But as a result we emit about 43 billion tons of carbon every year.

What a devastating impact on our climate. The innovations being tested in these cars show the possibilities in solar cells, batteries, aerodynamics and electronics. These technologies can lead to that our energy needs become clean which only requires the sun. So for us, pushing technological boundaries is crucial. We also care about the environment… …and we want to get the most out of technology for our planet. These teams come from universities all over the world and have designed and built vehicles on solar energy.

They are not connected to anything. Ready, one, two, three. You are heavy. You definitely feel the stress, but you're glad you can be here, because you can learn the theory you learned during your studies and research… …finally put it into practice. -Come on. – Come on, put it on. A solar car is actually a solar panel on wheels with a battery to store energy and a motor to drive forward. The lighter and more aerodynamic it is, the further and faster it goes. For these vehicles, efficiency is everything. We build quickly and efficiently. And that leads to innovation. There's nothing like a competition to actually get people to work… SIDD BIKKANNAVAR TOKAI – DRIVER …and let it innovate, to win. You develop technologies that are not yet on the market. So we build on a higher level. This event takes place every two years. As technology improves, the event limits the size of the solar panels and battery. TECHNOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS INSTALLATION AREA – IF GaAs BATTERY WEIGHT WHEELS – SEATING CORNER UPRIGHT They should also have an upright sitting position. That's why cars looked like this decades ago and why today's cars look more like this.

There are more than 40 teams and no two solar cars are the same. And now, after years of work is it show time. They only have a moment to get their car ready, and to meet inspection requirements. In the past 20 years one team has been absolutely dominant. FORMAT – CATAMARAN INSTALLATION – GALLIUMARSENIDE That is Team Vattenfall from the Netherlands. NETHERLANDS AUTO NUNA 10 We have participated in nine races and won seven. We came second twice. WILLEM JELLE BELLINGA TEAMLID – PR – VATTENFALL That's pretty funny, right? Because many teams don't talk about being first eerste or about winning. They're all about 'beating the Dutch'. This year we took advantage of new innovation in aerodynamics. We use shark skin and that is based on the skin of a shark. Sharkskin is a foil-wrapped coating with ribbing, small grooves along the stream that allow air to pass with less turbulence. It can reduce drag by up to 8%.

With that second skin we can reduce the air resistance of the car. Hopefully that will make a difference in the race. It's amazing how many designs there are. When I used to think of solar races, I always thought the cars looked the same with a large, flat design. But there are a lot of different designs to see here. I want to look further. Among the top teams there are two design groups. The catamaran, which is wide, compact and possibly more stable. And the bullet design, a long mono-hull shape, a newer concept that should create less wind. The catamaran is the old style, a golden oldie, and the bullet tries to make the best use of the rules to get a really fast car. We don't know which one is better we will see during this event. FORMAT – BALL INSTALLATION – SILICON When it comes to teamwork, Tokai University is very disciplined. JAPAN RACING PARTICIPANT They are the pioneers of bullet body design. In the last event, Tokai unveiled the mono-hull or bullet design. I think it surprised a lot of teams.

This year you see that ten or more top teams switched to that design. That's confirmation that… SIDD BIKKANNAVAR TOKAI – DRIVER …which was a great idea. Tokai has a car that is a unique structure. The craftsmanship resembles something straight out of the production line of a major manufacturer. It's quite awe-inspiring. Look at this car. It's beautiful. Thank you. Where is the engine? Yes that is him. Is that the engine? Only on one side. We can one hundred and forty… KOUHEI SAGAWA TOKAI – GENERAL DIRECTOR/DRIVER … get miles per hour. One hundred and forty miles an hour? Yes, exactly. But you can't go that fast, right? Yes. Are you going to win? Yes of course.

I am going to win. This race is my life's work. Everyone is busy. Yes. Is there air going through the cockpit? Yes, I'll show you. snake. Is that the air coming in there? Who comes here. You may see it from here. And when you're in the car, you take that snake and… all that? Change the position. I am a slave of the race. Because these solar cars are so well designed for efficiency, Even the smallest details can affect performance. Even a small, flapping piece of tape can increase resistance by more than 5%. PRACTICE ROUNDS VATTENFALL That's why teams try not to damage their cars during testing. CONTROL CENTER – VATTENFALL SOLAR TEAM But unfortunately for Vattenfall, they are already having problems. We were testing on the track and then the car crashed into the wall.

So aerodynamics are really important. A scratch on the aerodynamics is disastrous. We will investigate what the problem is, what is broken, and see if we can fix that quickly. We have to investigate everything. It's going to be hard work. We did not expect this. FORMAT – BULLET INSTALLATION – GALLIUMARSENIDE Stanford is a promising team from the US. USA – AUTO BLACK MAMBA They have a bullet design and they are one of the youngest teams in the league.

They are almost all bachelor students. How much of you is in that car? That's what I want to know. How much is in this car. Right now, definitely 100%. Why does it mean so much to you? I think, personally, it's nice to see something that transforms from nothing to a big beautiful thing that we've all been working on. And to do it with a group of strangers. The car we build is powered by the sun. The degree of innovativeness and creativity and perseverance to be able to build this car… JULIA GORDON DRIVER – STANFORD This is the coolest thing I've ever done. And I am also one of the drivers. Are you the drivers? How are you such good drivers? We are small, our hips are narrow enough. -We're willing… -Speak for yourself. We're willing to drive this furnace through the Outback, so… -How hot? -It's like a sauna in there. You sweat for hours. What is the driving strategy? We got our driving strategy from Talladega Nights. There you have it.

FORMAT – BALL INSTALLATION – GALLIUMARSENIDE Team Michigan is huge. They have a mysterious high-tech car. USA – AUTO ELECTRUM This is their 11th attempt and they have never won. But they think it's time now. We know our car is the best. As for critical performance characteristics, aerodynamics, solar panels, internal efficiency of the electronics, we have the best car. Hey, Dan, make sure the battery is covered. Michigan does not lack one thing, self-confidence. Do not film the battery. It's our secret. Anything we don't get in front of the camera is an advantage. The other teams want our information. We've been working on it for two days. "Hey, can you back up for a second? Don't put your camera there.' It's a game. I think Michigan has a certain bravado about it. They want to show their confidence and drive the others crazy, but that's fine. -Here we go. -Happy? It's like the old saying, "Blow through it." -Beautiful.

-Thanks. Just because the teams are here doesn't mean they can handle the race. Their cars must first pass very strict criteria teststest performed by race officials. The first is quite intense. This is the inspection… PHASE ONE – INSPECTION …where each team has to drive their car through different stations where the cars are broken down to make sure they qualify. The steering wheel moves the seat back. So we start with the inspection. We bring our car and are interrogated for four hours by the judges. So it's a crucial step for the teams. If they find something that doesn't follow the rules, you have to adjust it, which is difficult. SARAH SPAUGH CHIEF TECHNICIAN – STANFORD We check for driver safety and occupancy. Then we also check the mechanical functions. Brakes, car suspension, steering. -Important things. -Yes of course. Their electrical wiring, is it OK? Do they have the right size battery? Are their mechanics okay? These futuristic-looking vehicles should also be able to take to the streets, just like any other car on the public road. There is a small convex part in the mechanics.

That will probably cause some distortion. With this, our organization ensures that our cars are reliable, as it is a race of over 3000 kilometers. We have to show that our car is reliable and safe and that we can drive 3000 km. FORMAT – CATAMARAN INSTALLATION – GALLIUMARSENIDE Team Agoria from Belgium will be a strong competitor. BELGIUM – CAR BLUEPOINT In the last race they finished third, and they are back with a motivated and confident team. And they only think about one thing: winning. We have never achieved this.

We definitely have the team and the car for it. YANTE VAN HAM COMMUNICATION – AGORIA So we have a lot of confidence but we also need that bit of luck. In 2007, Agoria had a crash that destroyed their car. In the ensuing race, their battery caught fire. But since then we've renewed the team a few times. JARNO VAN HELENA ALUMNI ADVISER – AGORIA We did a great job preparing. So… I feel this is our year. Nobody wants an accident in a 150 kilo solar car made of carbon fiber and a combustible battery But it happens. Safety is therefore of the utmost importance. Here they are checking the cockpit. Also how quickly the driver can get out in case of an emergency. They only have 15 seconds to get out, to pass this test. So. The time has started. He is now getting out of the car. This is in an emergency. Here it comes.

He has 15 seconds to get out. There he goes. He has to do it all by himself. I think he will succeed. And he's out. Just on. Just under 15 seconds. If you look at all those solar cars, they look like impractical vehicles. They are generally very small single seat vehicles, which are incredibly hot and stuffy. Who would want to ride in that? But here the teams test, often for the first time, new technologies related to solar cells, batteries, aerodynamics, powertrains, electronic systems. So, if you see this as a race to develop an incredible solar car of the future, then you are wrong. Here they try to test solar technology to its limits. This has all kinds of implications for technology in our daily lives. Assuming this is not structural do they reach 50 millimeters no head fixation. The problem is that the head of the driver slightly protruding from the back of our structural roll cage.

So we don't protect this area of ​​the helmet enough if the car were to roll and turn upside down. I think we'll make it in the end. I have faith in that. We need to look at these bigger problems again. Our team is combative, we'll get through it. Adjustments, however simple, can be stressful and risky. With little time and only their own tools Stanford has a long, sleepless night ahead of him.

11:15 PM STANFORD GARAGE We can rip it out and Bondo over it. Australia was the first target, reach the starting line, the second, and driving through Australia, through the sacred heart of this ancient land, is a spiritual journey. CHRIS SELWOOD, RACING DIRECTOR My friends said, 'You're crazy. Why are you doing this? Why do you work 80 hours a week in that garage with those people, with that car?' I think the answer is… …and I must not forget, that we want to be the best. Not only do we compete against the competition, but also against technological boundaries. And that requires a huge sacrifice.

The stakes are high for these teams. Except for the game itself could this be their best chance to get noticed by the largest energy and technology companies. It's kind of like a giant job interview. This event has launched many careers. Hey. How are you? FORMAT – BALL INSTALLATION – GALLIUMARSENIDE I studied in Australia, so i want the team from Western Sydney. AUSTRALIA CAR – UNLIMITED 3 From what I hear they are the unknown factor this year. Tell. How did it go? We had ups and downs. A motor control got a bit hot, because we let him drive too fast on the track. It's fun on the track, the drivers have fun. MAX MAMMONE TEAM LEADER – WESTERN SYDNEY Someone was over-enthusiastic with the throttles. We represent our country. Nice that international crowd.

We laughed too hard to joke about poisonous kangaroos. There is nothing funnier than a foreigner who asks you whether a kangaroo is poisonous. One two Three. We have adapted our solar cell technology. First we rode on a silicon cell. Beware. This year we're using gallium arsenide, what is for aerospace, used in projects such as the Hubble Telescope. Unlike solar panels, made of cheap and abundant silicon, gallium arsenide cells are much more efficient. CONVERSION EFFICIENCY SILICON: 21% – GALLIUM ARSENIDE: 37% But they are also a thousand times more expensive to make. That's why we normally only see them in space. But what really sets the winners apart, is the team itself. Hold the front. -Do you have it? -Yes. We call ourselves a family. We don't call ourselves a team. Of course you need a good car. But with a good team you win the race. From what I hear there are different teams of which much is expected. Sonnenwagen from Germany has a very well designed car and a strong team.

Top Dutch from the Netherlands is participating for the first time. But if you look at their car, there's nothing green about it. Very impressive. And Team Twente, also from the Netherlands. They have the most compact car. Thanks to Vattenfall, that Dutch background falls always up in the world of technology. In just a few hours start the World Solar Challenge in the Outback. Peter, you are ready to go. Almost all teams passed the inspection and drove around to determine their starting positions. The teams leave early in the morning. Leading Top Dutch, sun wagon and Kogakuin from Japan. Behind them in fourth position is Agoria from Belgium. Behind it Solar Team Twente from the Netherlands and Tokai, also from Japan. With 3200 km of barren desert ahead, and only the sun to push them forward, the adventure is about to begin..

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