Solar Team Twente ready for the World Solar Challenge

On Sunday 8 October in Darwin, Australia, the biannual Bridgestone World Solar Challenge got underway. This edition again, the Solar Team Twente is attempting to be the fastest to complete the three-thousand kilometre route from Darwin to Adelaide. Like all other teams, they can only rely on solar energy to power their vehicle, the RED Shift. This is the seventh time for Solar Team Twente to participate, and in the last edition (2015) they achieved second place. The expectations are high again this year, and we spoke to team member Menno van de Straat just before the start.

Instructive and unforgettable experience

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The Twente team consists of 19 students who have suspended their studies for 18 months in order to concentrate fully on building a solar-powered car. Despite the sacrifice, the Solar Challenge is immensely popular among students at the University of Twente and University Saxion of Applied Sciences. Van de Straat: “Lots of students apply, and they need to complete a challenging procedure to make it into the team. Knowledge and training are important aspects of course, but motivation and team spirit are essential as well. In the end, all of us need to spend 18 months working like crazy to achieve a single goal. It demands a lot of effort and determination, but it’s also a very instructive and unforgettable experience.”

Accelerating the transition to solar power

Achieving success is not just about pushing the limits of technology, says Van de Straat; there is also an important societal aspect. “Sustainable mobility is currently an urgent theme. By participating and by developing our technologies, we are trying to accelerate the transition to solar-powered mobility. Our goal is also to persuade businesses to adopt these technologies, so that it ultimately benefits consumers as well. That is why we work closely with the business community. They are able to take the technological advances we achieve one step further.”

The team has been in Australia for over a month to fine-tune their solar car and to prepare for the race. As Van de Straat explains: “By testing the RED Shift on Australian roads we can work out the final details. Besides, the organisation thoroughly checks all cars to make sure they meet the requirements. That was not a problem for us, fortunately.” With the RED Shift, the Solar Team Twente has once again developed a car that is a real contender for the prizes. “The unique thing about our car is the narrow concept. Despite a four-square-metre silicon panel, we have built a very light car. In combination with all the electronic and mechanical aspects, the result is a super vehicle.”

Different disciplines converge

Building a solar-powered car is no easy feat: it is an extensive process in which various disciplines converge. “Roughly put, the aerodynamics team first investigates a number of concepts. Next, the mechanical team verifies whether all the components can fit into the drawn model, working in tandem with the electronics team. At every step of the way we need to pay close attention to the rules of the organisation. Once the concept has been finalised, we can start building the shell. This year we were able to combine all the parts in April and to start testing the actual car.”

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Photography: Patrick Ooms

Sparring to develop new ideas

Solar Team Twente has a reputation for technological innovations. This poses an additional challenge when the team has to reinvent the wheel for each successive edition.  “Former team members remain very involved with new projects. After each Solar Challenge edition, much effort is made to ensure the best possible transfer to the next team. That way we can preserve valuable knowledge and experience. Also in the run-up to a new race, we have weekly consultations with former participants in all disciplines. We can spar with them in order to develop new ideas.” Still, Van de Straat stresses that the new team is always in charge. “They bring a fresh perspective to the challenges that exist.”

Continuous exchange of information

Precisely because there are so many people and disciplines involved in developing and producing the RED Shift, effective information management is a key factor in the project. “The team works full-time on developing the solar car, which requires a continuous exchange of information and data. There is also the intensive exchange with businesses and former team members. With such a massive amount of information, everyone needs to know exactly what the other person is doing and where all the information can be found. To ensure a smooth process, it is also important for all agreements, both internally and with sponsors, to be documented centrally. This way it is always clear to everyone what we can expect of each other. In the project we rely on Relatics to manage all information, from technical specifications and CRM data to all the agreements with businesses. This is a pleasant way of working, as it means we have rapid access to all information and never run into unexpected surprises.”

Determining the right course

The rapid availability of information is also essential during the race itself. “We need to know exactly how the car is performing at every moment, and what the weather forecast is and where the other teams are at. By collecting this information centrally, our strategist always has the right information at hand to determine the right course. And hopefully, of course, we can win the race.”

Follow the race

Relatics is proud to sponsor the Solar Team Twente and wishes them every success in Australia. To follow the team’s performance during the Solar Challenge, you can watch the programme ‘Oranje Boven, Down Under’ on NPO1 from 7 to 15 October, directly after the 8pm news. You can also follow the race live via the NOS/VPRO app.