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SOPHIE Team Completed an Amazing Race
  • <p>“Through this project, the students finally understood the meaning of innovation, diligence and perseverance, which will benefit their future career in engineering.”</p>
  • <p>“Through this project, the students finally understood the meaning of innovation, diligence and perseverance, which will benefit their future career in engineering.”</p>
  • <p>“Through this project, the students finally understood the meaning of innovation, diligence and perseverance, which will benefit their future career in engineering.”</p>
  • <p>“Through this project, the students finally understood the meaning of innovation, diligence and perseverance, which will benefit their future career in engineering.”</p>

“Through this project, the students finally understood the meaning of innovation, diligence and perseverance, which will benefit their future career in engineering.”

Oct 2013

SOPHIE, the fourth-generation solar-powered car developed by IVE Engineering Discipline, completed an epic journey spanning 3,000 km in Australia in mid-October. Starting from the city of Darwin, the vehicle sped through deserts, grassland and rocky terrain for this year’s World Solar Challenge, an international solar car race that attracted 40 teams from 23 countries and regions. The effort put into enhancing the design, the comprehensive planning and the perseverance to overcome the barriers in the race have enabled the IVE team, a novice participant, to finish the GoPro Adventure Class race as the third runner-up.

SOPHIE was not a newbie to international competitions. First developed in 2009, the solar car took part in the Shell Eco-marathon Asia in Malaysia last year. However, the World Solar Challenge was much more taxing and challenging. Not only was the distance much longer, the solar car was also required to run on actual roads used by regular traffic, instead of designated tracks. SOPHIE only became fit to join the biennial contest after more than a year of improving and fine-tuning the design.

The team sent the first group of members to Australia two weeks ahead of the race. After thorough research, the team knew that the Australian customs were very stringent about imports, so they arrived earlier in case of shipment detainment. In order to familiarise themselves with the roads, they also arranged a test run in Darwin. Last but not least, SOPHIE went through meticulous inspections to check if the vehicle was safe and complied with the regulations. Any errors could result in mark deductions, or even disqualification. “We were very nervous, but the results were excellent. It was an enormous encouragement because we spent so much time on preparation,” said Principal Lecturer Peter Tang Siu-sing. The IVE team passed the examination with flying colours, with energy experts and academics praising SOPHIE’s outstanding design.

“The difficulties did not only lie in whether the solar car could complete 3,000km, the race also presented a huge logistical problem involving the transportation of 26 team members and supplies,” said Lecturer Billy Chow Man-hon who advised the students on the design of solar panels and energy monitoring system. The IVE solar car team was composed of six cars: the scout car which travelled well ahead of the team to check the road conditions and clear any obstacles; the lead car which warned of vehicles on the opposite lane and bumpy road ahead; the solar car, the soul of the team; the control car which ensured the solar car to stay in its course and analyse its energy level to formulate a race strategy; the camper van which carried the supplies; and the trailer which is reserved for emergency use if the solar car needs to be towed.

The SOPHIE team, which consisted of students and staff members, used six days to complete the race. They were only allowed to run the vehicles from 8:00am to 5:00pm, and they also had to reach the ten control stops before each deadline. If one team did not arrive in the stops before the closing time twice, it would be disqualified.

Driving SOPHIE was largely different from driving a regular vehicle. “I had to almost lie down and lift my legs at heart level when driving SOPHIE, so your legs could go numb very easily,” said Shek Chi-keung, a student who was handpicked to drive the sun-powered car. “I was quite nervous on the first day. I wasn’t really afraid of winds, except road trains, a kind of truck which pulls four or five trailers. The steering of SOPHIE could be greatly affected as a result of strong air current created by overpassing trucks or those travelling on the opposite lane.”

For the rest of team members, the World Solar Challenge was also incredibly demanding – physically and mentally. “We needed to collect solar energy to power the car. As the race started at 8:00am, we had to wake up at 5:00am and set up the solar panels,” said Lam Yuk-hong, an electrical engineering student. “At night, we would do some repairing works and see if the components were working properly. Before 9:00pm, everyone would have eaten and fallen asleep.”

“There were a lot of different kinds of insects in Australia, and some of the flies were as big as fingertips,” said IVE staffer Kelvin To King-ting. All members were bitten, and some students and teachers had to take medicine for fear of infections. One of the students also fell sick because of the wide temperature fluctuations during the day. But despite the hardship, the contest had left fond memories. “We spent so much time in the deserts during the competition, and it was a rare chance in life,” said Chan Cheung-hin, a student majored in electrical engineering. “I brought my camera to take pictures of the stars, and you could see the Milky Way in the sky.”

The World Solar Challenge was a one-of-a-lifetime learning opportunity. “The students participated in the competition not because of the school or teachers; they were motivated to gain the experience. In Hong Kong, no corporation has developed such a high energy-density lithium-ion batteries system to power a car,” said Lecturer Billy Ho Kin-fan. “Through this project, the students finally understood the meaning of innovation, diligence and perseverance, which will benefit their future career in engineering.”

Mr Billy CHOW, Lecturer, Department of Engineering said, “It was our first time to join this competition, obviously we were in a disadvantaged position. In particular we did not have as much technical data as those teams who had previously joined.” However, it was the ideal opportunity to see how energy efficient their racing car could be and how well the whole team could work out issues together. Weather could be a completely unpredictable challenge in solar car racing. During this contest, the weather was quite cloudy and put all the participants under pressure. Team Member Chun-yu TSE, final year student, said, “We kept monitoring the weather for the strongest sunlight, as we needed to select and decide the best time for the best absorption of sunlight.” Participating teams had to race four laps and meet certain requirements to win the competition–finish 11.2 kilometres within 23 minutes with the minimum amount of energy used possible.

Invisible challenges with support

Logistic arrangements were an invisible challenge but no less important–everything the team had worked towards for such a long time could have been crushed during transportation. Another Team Member, Yuk-hong LAM, year two student added, “It is also essential to consider the customs regulations which could easily have been overlooked. For example, all wooden boxes must be sprayed for pest extermination before landing, and their official certificates are required as well.” Luckily, with support from some sponsors and experts-Shell Hong Kong Limited, DHL Global Forwarding (Hong Kong) Limited, Olly Hwa (Holding) Limited, Surefield Developments Limited, Sun Power Asia and Sport Direct who all helped by providing materials, logistics services and offering professional advice which could not have been found in any manuals–it was made possible.

Challenge–next green track

The whole team agreed that this contest was an extraordinary opportunity to test drive a solar car in a Formula 1 race track. In addition, they were happy to meet other students who were also keen to dedicate their engineering knowhow and time to creativity and innovation. Wing-tai YEUNG, a year two student, Team Member, said, “After celebration, we will roll up our sleeves again and start to prepare our next project–the biannual World Solar Challenge Race in Australia next year, a very demanding global competition in terms of geographical, electrical, mechanical and physical conditions. Less than 50% of the vehicles managed to complete the race within the permitted time in 2011.” The team fully understand how hard it will be but refuse to back out. In fact, they are eagerly awaiting the chance to put into practice what they have just experienced and learnt from this contest, and also to test the limits of their knowledge and effort once again. One thing is for sure, this victory has motivated them to keep moving confidently on their green way.

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