During the past year, a multidisciplinary team of students from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have been working on the creation of a solar-powered family car – Stella. The Solar Team Eindhoven (STE) have arrived in Australia with the car, which will be taken to the starting grid of the World Solar Challenge in Darwin on 6 October 2013 to compete with a range of other electric cars in a 3000 kilometre race across the desert to Adelaide.

The World Solar Challenge is a biennial event inspired by solar pioneer Hans Tholstrup, who in 1982 undertook an epic journey across Australia from west to east in a home-built solar car. The challenge, which officially began in 1987, is primarily a design competition to find the world’s most efficient electric car and through the participants it showcases the development of advanced automotive technology and promotes alternatives to conventional vehicle engines.

This year the challenge sees the introduction of three distinct classes – each with their own parameters, stages and goals. The STE will compete in the Cruiser Class with its emphasis on practicality and user-friendliness rather than speed. In this class, once the cars race away from Darwin they must travel as far as they can until 5pm, when they have to stop and make camp in the outback. From then until 8am the next morning the team may perform basic maintenance but essentially the cars have to be self-reliant. There are seven mandatory checkpoints on the course with only three opportunities to recharge.

The design of Stella – Latin for star – started in September 2012 and in just one year the team has designed, manufactured and tested the vehicle. In entering the Cruiser Class the aim has been to create a family car that is not just about speed but about comfort, ease of use and practicality too.

The STE team consists of 22 students from six different departments at the university, all drawing on one another’s expertise for the design. For instance, students in the Department of Industrial Design helped with creating ideas to revamp the driving of the car. So, instead of traditional knobs and dials, there is an intuitive touchscreen and a steering wheel that expands or contracts when the driver is going too fast or too slow.

The design team also wanted this aerodynamic and lightweight electric vehicle to be officially certified for road use and managed to get it approved by the Government Road Transport Agency in the Netherlands to be used on public roads.

But the car won’t be seen on Dutch roads just yet as Stella was recently shipped to Australia where it will undergo some more testing and any final tweaking before the start of the race in a month’s time.

Click for more information on the race and to see the other university teams who have entered.

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