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UNSW students eye solar-car speed record

World speed record in sight for student-built Sunswift 7 solar-powered car

9 Jun 2022

THE UNIVERSITY of New South Wales Sydney racing team has officially launched its Sunswift 7 solar-powered car, a vehicle it hopes will claim the title of the Fastest Solar Electric Car over 1000km.


Designed and built by a 50-strong UNSW student team, the car is on track to claim the illustrious Guinness World Record title. It incorporates the know-how of the university’s Sydney Sunswift Racing team, which has more than 25 years’ experience in solar-car design and production.


The Sunswift 7 will attempt its record run this December at the Australian Automobile Research Centre in Wensleydale, Victoria.


“The Sunswift Racing team already holds a number of Guinness and FIA (Federation Internationale del’Automobile) world records and we are confident the Sunswift 7 can add to that list,” said Professor of Practice and former head of operations for the Red Bull Formula One team, Professor Richard Hopkins.


“Thanks to some aerospace technologies, this car weighs just under 500kg, which is about one-quarter that of a Tesla Model S. The lighter the car is, the more efficient it will be, and with efficiencies come speed.”


Prof Hopkins said the vehicle will average speeds of 120km/h or more during its eight-hour record attempt, making it considerably faster than the university’s previous record holder, the Sunswift Ivy, with an 88km/h top speed.


Indeed, the Sydney-based team has scored several achievements in the solar-vehicle realm; its fifth-generation solar car broke a 26-year-old EV speed record back in 2014. That model, named eVe, posted an average speed of 100km/h over a record-setting 500km run, eclipsing the previous best by a considerable margin.


“This is a racing car, so we save a lot of weight by not having ABS, or airbags, or an air-conditioning system – and we don’t even have windscreen wipers,” said Prof Hopkins.


“The team has done a lot of work on the bearings, which means there is very little mechanical resistance; the very aerodynamic design cuts air resistance to a minimum.”


Constructed primarily of carbon-fibre, the Sunswift 7 boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.095 and features several innovations in the way power is transferred between the solar array and the motor to further increase efficiency.


“Very little rolling resistance and very little air resistance make this car so efficient, and those efficiencies mean that once we get up to 100km/h and take the foot off the accelerator, that there isn’t a straight stretch of road long enough to measure how far this car would keep going all on its own,” added Prof Hopkins.


UNSW’s Sunswift Racing team has been at the forefront of solar-vehicle technology since building its first car in 1996 and enjoyed success in numerous races, most notably the World Solar Challenge.


As well as the Guinness World Record attempt, the latest Sunswift 7 car will also push the boundaries of what is technically possible with regards to remote driving.


In association with team technical partner Optus, the vehicle will have 5G receivers and cameras installed, allowing it to be driven by someone outside the car wearing a virtual headset – and that someone will be 2021 Bathurst 1000 winner Chaz Mostert who will pilot Sunswift 7 around the famous Mount Panorama track in October.


“This (project) is the result of the hard work of 50 undergraduate students who are very dedicated, very focused and very talented,” said Prof Hopkins.


“They were given the freedom to create. The criteria was simple: build a car that has solar power and a battery. I had very little influence over what they chose to do within that (brief). I just wanted them to make the best engineering decisions.


“Sunswift 7 is the manifestation of their collective minds, who, on Day One, probably had very little idea what they were doing. And now to produce this amazing car is just insane.


“Let’s remember, this is not the best paid professional car makers in Stuttgart working for Mercedes-Benz. This is a bunch of very smart amateurs who have taken all the ingredients and put it together in a brilliant way.”


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