2022 engineering

Engineers at Solaride are Working on a Next Generation Solar Car

In 2021, our engineers at Solaride built the very first solar powered car in the Baltic states. Once the ball is rolling, there is no stopping it - to make it to the 2023 Australian Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, they have already started working on their new car over five months ago. It takes a long time and attention to detail to build a solar car. We have divided the work into five stages: ideation, design, prepping for manufacturing, manufacturing itself, building and testing. Today, we have our plans, and we are working hard on finishing the final designs.

Troubleshooting and Groundwork

To finalize the concepts of the new vehicle, our team took the previous model apart in theory and practice; looking at what worked and what wasn’t ideal. In order not to rely merely on our own wits, we also conducted research into the latest vehicle advancements and tech. This enabled our engineers to combine improvements with innovation options found from research. Though the team needs to keep their plans flexible, they now have a real goal and direction to move towards.

Engineers are troubleshooting the previous model’s wiring. 

Photo by Joosep Kään

The process of our next gen vehicle is different from our very first stage. Our original model focused a lot on aerodynamics aka how to limit drag as much as possible. This focus determined our whole concept and design. However, this approach limited the space we had inside the car for all the important details that help us control it and keep the vehicle moving. It forced us to focus on what fit instead of what would have been the best.

Now that we are working on our new model, we are much more experienced - started from the inside and working our way out. First, we determined how much space our driver and co-pilot will need to be safe, but also comfortable inside the vehicle. After that, we determined the rest of the measurements and tackled the suspension and geometry, which made the car steerable. Finally, we locked in the initial design of the frame of the car. The frame will surround our drivers and connects the rest of the elements together. After the frame is finished, our engineers can finally focus on the body that will make our car look like a real vehicle.

First, our engineers had to come up with the concept of our new model. On this photo you see our engineering team lead Mart Erik Kermes and our head engineer Karl August Tants. 

Photo by Simm Paap.

Model, Analyze, Model, Analyze…

After the concept phase, the team moves on to designing. Our engineers reached this phase four months ago and are still at it. In this phase, our engineers work on specific designs for individual parts and prototype them to determine the final design we’ll use on the car. In this phase, they are completing aerodynamic analysis to find a body and frame design that has the least amount of drag and air resistance. The real challenge is to come to a design that is sturdy enough for safety reasons, while being flexible where we need it to.

The team is also tackling the electronics of the car. The biggest advancement will be a battery-pack that has been developed from scratch by our engineers instead of continuing to use the Tesla modules we used in our previous model. We chose this route for many reasons, but mainly for giving our team new experiences and reducing the weight of our car. Building the battery from scratch will enable our team to play around with its shape, making it take up less space. They are also building special attachments, bringing the weight down even more. If you couldn’t tell, we have really shifted our focus on bringing down the total weight, which will ensure more durability for our model. As a rule, the heavier the car is the faster it will far apart as each part will be under a heavier load.

Solaride project consists of many students who are here to learn and develop new skills. That is why our cars also focus on trying to find new ways to do things so our team could keep learning and get experience they can’t get anywhere else. New solutions require a sober mind and ability to analyze - especially when it comes to undertaking building something from scratch. You really have to assess what will play out in your favor and what risks are worth taking in the process.

Our engineering team is divided to three parts: mechanics, electronics and software. Each team plays a vital part to play in the process, so here’s an overview of what they do:

  • Mechanics take care of our vehicle looking like an actual car. They need to project and build a body that would have all the essentials from a frame to suspension as well as steering and breaking systems.

  • Electricians - as you might guess, they take care of everything to do with electronics. They pick out the motors, battery packs, solar panels and ways to make them all work together.

  • Software team is working hard to get our car rolling in its literal sense. They ensure our sensors take info to the motor, and that our wheels would eventually start turning. One of their most interesting development projects is the Optimal Speed Controler (OEC), which callculates an optimal speed that enables the car to use as little energy as possible to get to our destination on time while taking in count the landscape and weather on the road.

The engineering team at Solaride is our largest division with 31 members. We have lots of newcomers for our next gen season, while almost a dozen solariders have stuck around to support them with their experience and wisdom.

Safety, Reliability and Efficiency

We believe our models are differentiated by the way we have approached them - picking engineering choices with a more thorough approach. Our previous season had us building with a bit of a hurry as we tried to get all the necessary parts as fast as possible with great price. This time, we are focusing on safety, reliability and efficiency.

The most important of them being safety. The last model really highlighted the pumps in the steering system and whenever the car was going 80 km/h in regular traffic, it would’ve been really dangerous. To ensure our car crosses the finish line, we have to make sure our car is reliable. After all, we are there to race and we do want to cross the finish line, believe it or not! However, many cars never do because many teams optimize different parts of their designs, making the car incompatible with the extreme conditions of Australia.

We also want to make sure our car is efficient with the energy it uses. It is challenging to decide which parts of the car we should build ourselves and for which parts we could use the help of our supporters, like Intar. It might be cheaper to do it ourselves, but we must make sure the part will still be as efficient. Many times, we were able to save a lot of money, time and materials, creating less waste and winning on many fronts.

Starting to look like a real car! This was the frame of our first model.
Photo by Jaan Susi

Time to build and test

Once the design is finalized, the team needs to start gathering the materials and details needed to actualize the plans. This includes blueprints and work orders to our partners. Once everything arrives, the team takes time to put everything together.

The building process usually begins with the piped frame parallel with building the body and the solar panels. After attaching them all together, we suddenly end up with a car! That’s when we get to test it.
The testing phase will expose the reality our car completely - that’s when the team will discover whether or not the car is suitable for the race. To reduce risks, our team is already trying to test our car in every phase. Critical components are mocked up early to make sure we don’t lose time on building them in wrong. Our previous season didn’t have a ton of time for testing, which really bit us in the bum during the race. We didn’t have much experience in fixing things on the go, which forced our car to stop for up to an hour during the race in Moroco, while others would stop for about five minutes. This is a perfect example of how we need to prepare ourselves for different situations and flexibility to keep our car going. In 2022, our team wants to reach the building phase in order to leave enough time for thorough testing, bringing our car to the 2023 Australian race in best shape possible.

The lessons learnt

Our head engineer Karl August Taunts and engineering team lead Mart Erik Kermes say their biggest lesson from the previous season was to always prepare for something going wrong. These situations make the team break out of their comfort zone, think out of the box and use all possibilities for coming up with solutions.

Taunts and Kermes want to highlight how unique our project is in Estonia as it gives students the opportunity to apply themselves in an environment that encourages testing, failing, and trying again. This way the engineers have already learned so many lessons by the time they enter the workforce for their big-time projects. If colleges and universities are focused on academic knowledge, then Soalride Academy seeks to get these skills engraved into students through hands-on experience by taking on the very building of our solar car. It’s a head-dive platform for our engineers, ensuring they enter the workforce with practical skills and knowledge from handling tools to softwares as well as being familiar with different processes and feedback. To top it off, our soalriders have access to incredible mentors in all departments - they invest in our students consistently with wisdom, workshops and trainings.

First season solar car flashing backligths at us. Soon you’ll see our new model! Photo by Berta Kisand

This story was written by our Solaride marketing team member Laura Korjus, translated by Jette Stammer.

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