There is much more to the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (BWSC) than an environmentally friendly solar car race.
We asked Chris Selwood, Event Director of the BWSC, to help us define the 4 main fascinations of the Event.
Point 1 The Technical Challenge
The technical challenge of building a solar powered electric vehicle is comparatively easy. However, the competing solar cars must be efficient, reliable, and what’s more, must satisfy the design constrains of the competition! These all pose a whole new degree of difficulty for the teams.
Solar cars must efficiently convert solar energy to be the first across the finish line (for Challenger Class) or to complete in the given time (for Cruiser Class)
Solar cars must be robust and reliable enough to traverse the continent, ensuring safe operation on public roads.
Solar cars must meet; one, cunning plans led by the Event’s own Scientific Faculty, and two, the motor vehicle design requirements of civil regulation.
The former is regularly scrutinized and updated to continue to engage and challenge teams. When teams think the challenge is too easy, they lose interest, so there is no excuse for the degree of difficulty imposed!
For Cruiser Class, practically is a key aspect. Teams go through a real-world design experience, where cars must be attractive to the end user, on top of meeting road regulations.
Recently some teams go beyond the requirements of the competition and seek to commercialise their creation, challenging regulatory authorities, many of whom have yet to embrace the concept of lightweight electric vehicles on public roads.
Point 2 Adventure in the Outback
Adventure. It is a great adventure. The overland crossing of Australia is a great adventure in a conventional vehicle. Not for nothing do Australians recognise what is called the 'tyranny of distance'. Make no mistake, it is a remote place. True there are 'road houses' providing conventional fuel and essential supplies, and these are located every few hundred kilometres or so. In between? At once everything and nothing. Nothing a city dweller would recognise, but everything that has sustained the aboriginal population for tens of thousands of years.
This then is the adventure. Travelling through the very heart of this ancient land requires thought, planning and for a solar car team, organisation.
The event regulations require teams run only between 8:00 and 17:00 each day. As the chances of arriving at a comfortable motel at 17:00 are unlikely, travellers need to be self-sufficient in order that they can make camp - wherever they are in the desert!
Camping under the billion stars of the southern desert sky is an experience none will forget.
Self-sufficiency in the ability to provide repair and maintenance of the solar car is also an essential aspect of the challenge.
Point 3 Personal Development
For those involved, the young designers and engineers lucky enough to be drawn to this opportunity, it is a great deal more than the adventure and achievement, but the experience of working with a multidisciplinary team on a common goal.
The tasks are manifold, and while they celebrate the traditional STEM subjects of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, they go beyond to touch on the essential disciplines of procurement, resources, finances, logistics and responsibility.
For these reasons, alumni of successful solar car teams are highly prized candidates for emerging hi-tech business, who want and need those who have developed the thinking skills required for innovation and complex problem solving.
Point 4 BWSC spirit
The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge has bred a special culture.
The shared experience of this very special event cannot be underestimated. The "spirit of friendly competition" pervades every aspect of the event. True there are big budget teams for whom prestige and future funding are vitally important goals of the success of the mission, but we see time and again teams helping each other.
Helping each other with spare parts, offering advice to newer teams, and encouraging others at every quarter…
There is even an award for demonstrating the "spirit of the event"!