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Success of SOPHIE solar-powered vehicles proves Hong Kong's research and development potentials
  • <p>“These research and development projects prove that Hong Kong has excellent human capital for the development of innovation and technology”</p>
  • <p>“These research and development projects prove that Hong Kong has excellent human capital for the development of innovation and technology”</p>
  • <p>“These research and development projects prove that Hong Kong has excellent human capital for the development of innovation and technology”</p>
  • <p>“These research and development projects prove that Hong Kong has excellent human capital for the development of innovation and technology”</p>

“These research and development projects prove that Hong Kong has excellent human capital for the development of innovation and technology”

Jun 2015

Citizens were stunned when they saw a futuristic-looking vehicle dashing along the roads in Hong Kong on 28 June. The car did not have four wheels; its solar panel-studded body was as flat as a plate. In short, the vehicle looked like as if it came from the future, or some unearthly object travelling on the road. In fact, the car is the making of IVE Engineering’s staff and students – a solar-powered vehicle named SOPHIE IV.

28 June was an eventful day for the SOPHIE team. SOPHIE IV, the vehicle which participated in the World Solar Challenge two years ago, became the first solar-powered vehicle in Hong Kong to travel on Hong Kong highways. The vehicle left the IVE (Tuen Mun) campus, passed through Yuen Long Highway, Tai Nam Tunnel, Ting Kau Bridge and Route Three, Canton Road and reached the IVE Tsing Yi campus, completing the one-hour test run successfully without a hitch. SOPHIE IV became a sensation at the scene, as curious drivers drove their vehicles slowly just to get a closer look. The successful test drive proves that SOPHIE is much more than a student project. “We want to change the common perception of solar-powered vehicles. They are neither toys nor ‘product for competition’. Solar car is ready for use on highways. I am very satisfied with the test drive, which was a breakthrough for locally-made solar-powered vehicles. Hong Kongers have the capabilities to develop high-technology products,” said Dr. Peter Chiu Ping-kuen, head of Department of Engineering, IVE (Tsing Yi).

IVE Engineering has been developing solar-powered vehicles for the past six years, and the effort has culminated in SOPHIE V, the fifth-generation of the solar-powered car. SOPHIE V was unveiled to the public during the launch ceremony on 25 June, to which guests and reporters were invited. SOPHIE V will be flown to Australia in October for World Solar Challenge 2015. Again, the race spans 3,000 kilometres, but this year, the IVE team will be participating in another class of the contest, i.e. the more challenging Cruiser Class. The IVE team will become the only Chinese representative in this class, competing against top institutions from Australia, the USA, Holland, Germany and the UK.

Dr. Chiu has full confidence in SOPHIE V, which is made up of a new and lighter material called carbon fibre composite and aramid fibre honeycomb core. “If the team manages to control the weight of the solar-powered vehicle, there is a greater chance of winning. It requires much less energy to propel a vehicle,” Dr. Chiu told the press earlier.

The streamlined silhouette, plus the maximum power point tracking technology applied to the solar panels, makes SOPHIE V a more energy-efficient vehicle. Computational fluid dynamics technology was also employed to simulate wind tunnel testing for further improvements on the car body’s aerodynamic properties. “One of the biggest challenges for making SOPHIE V is that Hong Kong does not have industries to support the development of SOPHIE. For example, there is no venue to conduct wind tunnel testing. We then find another way out and make use of computer simulations,” said Kenneth Hui Ka-chun, one of the SOPHIE team members.

The astounding success of SOPHIE has garnered wide public attention, and IVE Engineering had the pleasure to receive Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on the Tsing Yi Campus on 14 July. While Mr. Leung examined an array of student projects, he was very impressed with the students’ achievement. “These research and development projects prove that Hong Kong has excellent human capital for the development of innovation and technology. Since vocational education can nurture and unleash students' creativity and diverse skills, it plays a pivotal role in the co-operation among the Government, industry, academia and research sectors,” Mr. Leung said.

The Hong Kong government has always emphasised the importance of vocational training. Last June, the government set up a taskforce on the promotion of vocational training. The taskforce have submitted a report detailing the strategies and recommendations to change the common perception of vocational training.

The world has been swiftly changing and the education sector needs a paradigm shift, too. Academic training may not fit everyone, and the practical-minded young people may find vocational training more inspiring and fulfilling. The accomplishments of SOPHIE and the IVE team is the best example showing the strength of vocational training. As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome – and in a diversified society like ours, there are a variety of means to the same end.

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