Day 5 of the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge began more routinely the previous day. This day we were going to be driving on solar power, and would not be trailoring. We were able to start charging at sunrise, and then left promptly at 08:00. It was smooth driving until we had a few minor electrical issues around 11:00. We pulled over, and found the issue and were able to fix it in less than ten minutes. We then kept driving until the Coober Pedy control stop and arrived at 13:00. An hour later a new issue occurred. Some of the messages between the battery management system (BMS) were being lost. The battery management system monitors the batteries and makes sure they are operating safely. The car was missing a very small percentage of the messages from the BMS and the batteries were fine, but the car shut itself off just to be safe. After this happened twice we decided to pull over, and replace the cables between the main board and the BMS. This helped fix the problem. We then were able to keep driving until we made camp for the night. Our campsite ending up being 125km from any city.
So you may have noticed that there hasn’t been an update for a while. I apologize about that. The thing is that we are all students and do have classes. Unfortunately I was hosed in classes and rushing to get done by the Friday midnight. Now I do have some time again so here’s the updates that were missed over the past few days.
Day 4 started even earlier than usual for us. While trailoring we are allowed to drive from sunrise to sunset. For this we had to get up early enough that we are able to leave the camp-site and make it to our stop point from the previous day by sunrise. We then drove until the next control stop at Alice Springs. At this point we decided that the best strategy for us was to not unload this point, but to continue to the next control stop. So we waited there for the required half hour, and then we drove on to the next control stop at Kulgera. At Kulgera we quickly unloaded and started driving again at 12:00. However though due to the trailoring we had missed all of our potential charging time from the previous day and part of this day so our batteries were not nearly as charged as we would have liked. We were able to drive for another four hours with no issues. We did decide that it was better at 16:00 to be charging instead of driving since it would be better to charge with a titled array. At that point we stopped for the day and began filling our pack back up again.
Day 3: the team had just recovered from an electrical issue the previous day, but we were ready to go. That morning we were able to have another on time start and were driving promptly at 08:00. Along the way one of the Maximum Power Point Trackers (MPPT) had some issues. The electrical team was able to diagnose the issue while we were driving and decided to replace the bad MPPT after the next control stop. We were able to make it to the Tennant Creek control stop with no other issues. However we knew that at this point we would not be able to make it to the next control stop before it closes. The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge requires you to make some minimum progress each day so that the challenge does not end up dragging out to be a few week event. If you are not keeping up with this minimum progress requirement you are required to load your car into a trailer, and tow it to the next control stop. Once you have trailered though you no longer are competing for the fastest finish but rather for completing the most solar kilometers. For strategic reasons we decided to keep driving on solar as long as we could before we had to trailer. This lead to us driving until about 16:00 at which point we loaded Arcturus into the trailer and kept on going. We drove as far as we could until sunset which is when we had to stop driving. Where we stopped though wasn’t a good camping spot, and there was a camp ground 20km back. We marked the spot by putting a team shirt on a termite mound, and went back to the camp ground. It was wonderful to be able to shower at the camp ground.
Check out pictures from the day on our Flickr.
On the morning of the second of the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge spirits were high on the team. We had a full day of driving with no incident, we were in the outback, and had a relaxed easy night. The Challenge was going well for us. We were able to start the day driving promptly at 08:00. We were able to drive non-stop to the next control stop at Dunmurra. We decided to spend a few extra minutes at the control stop in order to reprogram our car to allow for a pseudo-cruise control. Since Arcturus has two hub motors it is not possible to just have the motor controllers run the motors at the same speed. This is because when you turn the two wheels will have to spin at different speeds. Instead we have the motor controllers maintain the same torque for both motors and this will automatically adjust each wheel’s speed as the car turns. Our pseudo-cruise control sets a maximum torque for the motors, and this indirectly acts as a cruise control on level terrain. This was able to improve our efficiency by reducing the small fluctuations in speed that the drivers caused.
However the day did continue go this well. Early in the afternoon the driver smelled something strange in the car. The team immediately pulled over and responded very quickly and well to the possible emergency. Within thirty seconds we knew there was no emergency, and began trying to figure out what went wrong. Once we opened the car we found a wire that had shorted due to rubbing. We then had to spend a few hours on the side of the road making repairs. First we replaced the shorted wires, moved the wire so it wouldn’t rub, and added more protective nylon sheathing. Once this was repaired we found out that the short had burned out most of our Maximum Power Point Trackers (MPPT). These boards step up the solar array voltage to the voltage of the batteries and the motors as efficiently as possible. Once we had replaced and tested all of the damage boards we had just enough time to get on the road and drive a few hundred feet to a better campsite. After stopping we only needed to change out tires and make a few minor changes.
The start of an adventure; always an exciting day. The team needed to be at the start line nice and early to have Arcturus in place for the public to see, and to get ready for the actual beginning of the challenge. It was nice to see all the other cars all ready to go and in pristine condition. Most of the team wasn’t actually able to see Arcturus start the challenge though because we had to wait in the escort vehicles. For driving on the Highways for the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge each solar car has a rear “chase” and front “lead” escort vehicle which have flashing amber “crazy” lights to warn the other drivers on the highway. Arcturus crossed the ceremonial start line and the officials worked it out perfectly so Arcturus slipped in right between our lead and chase as it entered the street, and we were able to just go. For the first hour of driving it was rather exciting because we were inside Darwin so there was a lot of traffic there as well as most of the teams were trying to pass each other while we were all bunched up. During this stretch of the route there were a lot of locals sitting on the side of the road watching us go by and cheering all of the teams on.
After getting onto the Stuart Highway, and leaving the city the driving became a lot calmer with the lesser traffic. We started to enter the rhythm of driving and just go at a nice steady pace. We drove straight until the control stop in Katherine. At control stops we are required to stop for a half-hour and can not work on the car, but we can charge the batteries. We used this time to tilt the array and charge better, and also change out our drivers, so they didn’t get tired. We were a little under practiced with control stops and ended up leaving Katherine a few minutes late. Once we were back on the road it was smooth sailing until the end of driving for the day at 17:00. We happened to stop next to a WWII memorial with a large pullout that we were able to park at along with TAFE SA. TAFE SA is a very nice team, and they helped us with beading some very difficult tires. After we stopped driving we started charging, and checking the car out. Luckily all that needed repair was that the tires needed to be switched out, which we expected.
We are all set to go for the World Solar Challenge! We have passed dynamic scrutineering and will be starting in position 28. Our trailer is packed and we are ready to depart on an adventure across the outback.
Dynamic scrutineering is very similar to static scrutineering in that it verifies the safety and regulation compliance of the car, but it does so through actual driving. The process is rather straight forward and well run. Each team is sent onto the track one by one. They then complete two laps of the track the first is for getting used to the current track conditions and then the second one is timed. This time is used for determining starting positions. After that the car pulls out to the drag strip that is tangent to the track. Here the driver must successful complete 2 U-turns, a slalom, and a brake test. If you pass all these tests safely and within the regulations you are ready for the Challenge this Sunday! We got a 2:25.5455, which put us in starting position 28. We aren’t too concerned about this though; this is an endurance challenge and not a race. We hope to start passing teams fairly early in the challenge, and nudge our way up the ranks.
After scrutineering we had some chances to get pictures with all of the teams and cars. All of our team was showing our team spirit, so we weren’t able to get any pictures of this really awesome spectacle. Don’t fret though as there were many many many photographers so some pictures from it will be easy to find. Such as this one from Solar Team Eindhoven:
— Solar Team Eindhoven (@SolarEHV) October 17, 2015
To finish off the day we had the joy of packing all of our tools and supplies back into our trailer along with Arcturus. Now we are packed and ready for the challenge tomorrow and will be leaving at 0400 to get in our place for the start line. The team is excited for the adventure to come!
Fun fact of the day: Most of the Australian toilets we have seen do not in fact flush in the opposite direction as American toilets.In fact they don’t really produce a spiral flush but instead just flood the toilet bowl from the front and back. The jury is still out on what “scientific phenomenon” causes this.
We are clear to start! We even have a sticker that says so. We have passed static scrutineering, and the team has been able to sigh a collective sigh of relief.
During static scrutineering the event officials verified that Arcturus met the regulations and is safe to drive. We had scrutineering on Wednesday. So most of Tuesday we were double checking our car and making sure we hadn’t forgotten about one of the minor regulations. Wednesday the team woke up nice and early at 0515 in order to pick up Arcturus from the track and get to show grounds, where the scrutineering was happening, before our scheduled time. Scrutineering went very well overall. We had designed our car safely and with the regulations in mind, and it was showing. At the end of scrutineering there were only two issues we had to fix. The first was a problem with our driver seat cushioning. Our cushioning was just barely too thick to allow the driver to have the required head space. The other problem was that to open our canopy from the outside required a screw driver,which might not be available in an emergency.
After returning to the track we began working on the problems. We quickly made a new driver cushion that was smaller but still gave the drivers enough padding. We also fixed the canopy opening problem by putting wing nuts on the opening mechanism so the canopy could be opened from the outside by hand. With all the problems solved it was time to go back and get re-inspected. We were scheduled for re-inspection at 0800 on Thursday. We arrived before 0730, got inspected, got our awesome new sticker, and left for the track before 0745. It was great to be done with this major milestone and to do so so quickly. Now all that is left is to complete dynamic scrutineering on Saturday, where the car’s brakes and steering will be tested. Just three more days until the The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge starts. The team is ready and excited for the upcoming voyage across the outback.
We are down under now! All of the team members have arrived in Darwin, Arcturus is at the track, and testing is under way. Most of the team arrived yesterday (Sunday) after leaving Friday after classes. Along the way though some team members had 12-hour layovers in Sydney and Melbourne, and were able to explore a little bit. I was in the Sydney group and got a quick taste of Sydney. We managed to see the Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, and a few museums. We even managed to not get lost in Sydney (despite my best effort).
Today was the second day that the team was able to work at the track. We checked the car over completely to make sure all the systems were safe and operational after Arcturus’s long voyage across the ocean. We then were able to get on the track for our allotted half hour. This test was rather successful and we only had to made slight modifications after the test. We also were able to get some of the logistical work done, such as: setting up car radios, lights and inverters, and updating our sponsor stickers on the trailer.
Tomorrow the team will be leaving for Australia! Here’s how to follow us during the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. During the actual challenge (Oct 18-25) we will be blogging daily and posting pictures to Instagram on the MITstudents account. During the challenge though we will be in the middle of the outback with very little internet connection. So our schedule may be odd, but don’t fret we will find a way to post content. Also the organizers will be putting up quite a bit of content so check them out at worldsolarchallenge.org.
If you’ve made it to our corner of the internet, chances are you’ve heard of 3M. Post-it notes, scotch tape, 3M products are everywhere, but those of us on the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team know that 3M is so much bigger than that. In fact, Arcturus would never have come into being without the help of 3M products. As a long-standing platinum sponsor of our team, 3M has supported us over many different cars and races, so we wanted to take a moment to spotlight how their contribution keeps our team sticking together and our cars running smoothly.
One of my favorite 3M products that we use on the team are the 3M Speedglass welding helmets. The range of darkness settings and sensitivities on these helmets allow for the safest and most effective welding experience- especially important for new welders who already have their hands full learning the TIG welding ballet.
In addition to keeping us safe while welding, 3M products play a critical role in our composite layup process and the subsequent body work. Cumulatively, the team spent over 150 hours sanding and finishing the body after the layup (a process that was many hundreds of hours on its own). Without key 3M products like the sandpaper and sanding fairing shown below, we would have been hopeless.
When we’re at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge next month, we’ll be thinking of 3M every morning when we tape up the fairings and seams of the car with this beautiful vinyl tape.
Our team is very grateful for the continued support of 3M, and we hope all of our sponsors and supporters are proud to be a part of our journey to race in Australia.