Photo: Hans Peter van Velthoven
by Brent Gregston, Oct. 2007
HP sponsored teams have taken first and second place in the Panasonic World Solar Challenge a biannual 3000 km solar car race from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia.
The Challenge: Design and build a car capable of crossing the vast and imposing continent of Australia powered by nothing but the sun.
It is rightly called one of the great scientific adventures of our time, inspiring bright young minds from universities around the planet to design and build the world's fastest sun-powered vehicle. Since 1987, the event has drawn attention to the promise of solar transportation.
HP helped the two teams design and race cars that met the energy efficiency challenge by equipping them with workstations, notebook PCs and accessories.
The Dutch Nuon Solar Team won the race with their solar car, the Nuna 4. The team members are students of Delft University of Technology. Previous teams from the university had won the Panasonic World Solar Challenge in 2001, 2003 and 2005 with record-breaking speeds. The Belgian Team, which took second place, raced the Umicar Infinity. The team consists of 14 enthusiastic industrial engineering students and graduates from GROUP T University in Leuven.
Both teams demonstrated how young people with ambition can contribute to technological innovation and a sustainable future.
Regulations were tightened up for the World Solar Challenge 2007, requiring far-reaching design changes to bring the cars closer to real-world driving. The changes are a reminder that this is a challenge, not a race. The challenge is to create and refine super-efficient energy technologies that will become tomorrow's practical transportation.
The cars competed on public roads and race officials imposed speed limits and large time penalties for going too fast. For the first time in the history of the event, the cars were equipped with lights.
The drivers are now obliged to enter and exit the solar car independently, whereas in the past the driver was assisted by team members.
With a view to commercializing this type of vehicle, ergonomics are also gaining in importance. For instance, the driver now has to sit upright, adding a lot of drag.
So the previous flat design had to be modified to create a solar-powered car that looks more like a 'real' car. Computer generated 3D drawings for the bodies of the Nuna 4 and Umicar Infinity revealed at the design stage how the driver, car and sections would relate to one another.
The HP Workstations handled the compute-intensive calculations for achieving ideal aerodynamic designs.
The solar panels also had to be reduced in size in order for the cars to take on the shape of a more conventional vehicle. Whereas 9m2 had been the standard, this has now been reduced to 6m2. In addition, the dimensions and shape of the steering wheel were set in advance by the race organisers.
The Umicar Infinity weighs just 185 kilos. The Nuna 4 is slightly heavier, at 200 kilos.
As these cars had to be as light as possible, to allow for speed, the strength of the various parts and the cars as a whole was simulated on HP workstations. These workstations are of inestimable value for real-time calculations, based on a model of the car in motion.
During the race, HP notebook computers were used for real-time communication between the drivers and the team cars that followed. The teams used all this computational power to devise a driving strategy that took into account external factors such as changing weather conditions.
"A notebook you can always rely on is the basis for a perfect, innovative design," according to Nuon Solar Team leader Stefan Roest. And last but not least the driving strategy for the Nuna 4 is determined using a genetic algorithm.
Through its sponsorship, HP is underlining the importance it attaches to innovation and the environment.
From product design to our own operations, HP leads by example, inspiring customers, governments, communities and other organizations to make a commitment to creating a more energy-efficient environment.
HP's goal is to reduce our global energy use 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2010.