This updated table shows the 35 (out of 42) cars in the World Solar Challenge which have been spotted on the track or on the road as at 20:40 on Wed, Oct 4 (Darwin time). There are links to photos and to team social media. The third column of the table shows the car class (or, for Cruisers, the number of seats). For more detailed information about the teams, see my annotated teams list.
On October 8, teams in the World Solar Challenge begin their race from Darwin to Adelaide. Here are 10 things for travellers across Australia to look out for.
1. The Magellanic Clouds
The Magellanic Clouds are two small galaxies – at 160,000 light-years and 200,000 light-years, the nearest visible galactic neighbours of our Milky Way. They can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere, away from towns. The Australian Outback is the perfect place to observe them.
2. The Southern Cross
The Southern Cross (Crux) is a constellation appearing on the flags of many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, including Australia. It consists of four bright stars, with a fifth being visible to the naked eye in good conditions. The constellation can be located with the aid of the pointer stars Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. It can also be used to determine the South Celestial Pole. The star at the “top” of the Cross (Gamma Crucis) is a red giant. The fifth star (Epsilon Crucis) is an orange giant.
3. The wedge-tailed eagle
The wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax)) is Australia’s largest bird of prey, and a national icon. It can be seen around Australia, either in the sky, or snacking on roadkill.
4. The red kangaroo
The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is the largest living marsupial, and is found throughout central Australia, in areas with less than 500 mm rainfall. It is an Australian national icon, as well as being a major traffic hazard at dawn and dusk.
5. The sand goanna
The sand goanna (Varanus gouldii) is a large monitor lizard, growing to about 1.5 metres. It is found across much of Australia.
6. The thorny devil
The thorny devil (Moloch horridus) is found in arid, sandy areas of western and central Australia. It lives mostly on ants.
7. Magnetic termites
Magnetic termites (Amitermes meridionalis) are one of two Australian termite species building mounds that align north–south. They can be found in the vicinity of Darwin. The mound orientation appears to be a temperature-control mechanism.
8. Sturt’s desert pea
Sturt’s desert pea (Swainsona formosa) grows in arid regions of Australia. It is the floral emblem of the state of South Australia.
9. The desert grasstree
The desert grasstree (Xanthorrhoea thorntonii) is a grasstree found in arid regions of western and central Australia. Like the other 27 species of grasstree (Xanthorrhoea spp.), it is endemic to Australia, and a symbol of the Australian landscape.
Teams are assembling in Darwin for the World Solar Challenge in October. See my annotated teams list for details.
Here is an alternate presentation of the World Solar Challenge Cruiser Class score calculation:
To illustrate the World Solar Challenge Cruiser-class scoring for 2017, here is the calculation for Kogakuin’s 2015 car (above). Disclaimer: this is, of course, my personal interpretation of the regulations.
Notice that Cruisers are not in a race this year – any arrival time during the 11:00 to 14:00 time window on Friday is OK.
Inside window? YES
Battery capacity, Q = 14.855 kWh
Number of recharges, n = 1 (at Alice Springs)
External energy use, U = (n + 1) Q = 29.71
Person-km, C = 3022
Energy efficiency, E = C / U = 101.7
Highest energy efficiency, E* = 203.6 (Eindhoven)
Relative energy efficiency, E / E* = 0.4996
Practicality P = 51.75
Highest practicality, P* = 84.5 (Eindhoven)
Relative practicality, P / P* = 0.6124
Total score, S = 80 E / E* + 20 P / P* = 39.97 + 12.25 = 52.22
This is a massively lower score for Kogakuin than was actually awarded in 2015. This year, the World Solar Challenge Cruiser Class is all about energy-efficiency, carrying passengers, and practicality. Expect to see the four-seat and five-seat Cruisers (like the Polish car below) running with every seat occupied.
It’s apparently time for lunatic end-of-the-world prophecies again. The latest relates to a “great red dragon” in the sky (a reference to Revelation 12):
It’s a false-colour image (i.e. not red at all), being taken at 100 microns, in the infrared region of the spectrum. But with enough spin, apparently it can be made to sound scary.
In the final version of the infrared sky survey, this artefact was blacked out, since it doesn’t reflect any actual stellar infrared sources (just a planet that moves around). Of course, that removal got the conspiracy-theory nutters going.
Above, the calendar for October (click for hi-res image). See more calendars here.
Following on from my route map for the World Solar Challenge – all 3,000 km or 1,900 miles of it – here are some personal route notes (revised from 2015). The graph below (click to zoom) shows approximate altitudes (calculated by overlaying the route on an altitude raster). The highest point on the route (about 730 m) is 20 km north of Alice Springs, although the steepest hill (Hayes Creek Hill, summit 203 m) is about 170 km from Darwin.
Darwin – Start
The city of Darwin marks the start of the race.
Katherine – 322 km – Control Stop 1
Daly Waters – 588 km – Control Stop 2
Dunmarra – 633 km
University of Toronto’s Blue Sky Solar team leaves the Dunmarra control stop in 2013 (photo: Blue Sky Solar)
Dunmarra once served the Overland Telegraph Line. Today it is little more than a roadhouse, motel, and caravan park. In previous races, this was a control stop.
Tennant Creek – 988 km – Control Stop 3
Tennant Creek (population about 3,500) is a small town serving nearby mines, cattle stations, and tourist attractions.
Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve
The 1,802 hectare Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve lies along both sides of the Stuart Highway about 100 km south of Tennant Creek. It is home to a variety of reptiles and birds, including the fairy martin (Petrochelidon ariel) and the sand goanna (Varanus gouldii). Race participants, of course, don’t have time to look (unless, by chance, this is where they stop for the night).
Barrow Creek – 1,211 km – Control Stop 4
Ti Tree – 1,300 km
Nuon Solar Team’s Nuna6 drives by a fire between Tennant Creek and Alice Springs in 2011 (photo: Hans Peter van Velthoven)
Alice Springs – 1,496 km – Control Stop 5
Alice Springs is roughly the half-way point of the race.
Kulgera – 1,766 km – Control Stop 6
Kulgera is a tiny settlement 20 km from the NT / SA Border. The “pub” is Kulgera’s main feature.
NT / SA Border – 1,786 km
The sign at the Northern Territory / South Australia border shows Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa), the floral emblem of the state of South Australia.
Coober Pedy – 2,178 km – Control Stop 7
Glendambo – 2,432 km – Control Stop 8
The Belgian team’s Indupol One leaves Glendambo control stop in 2013 (photo: Punch Powertrain Solar Team / Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Glendambo is another small outback settlement.
Port Augusta – 2,719 km – Control Stop 9
Adelaide – Finish
Adelaide, the “City of Churches,” is the end of the race. The official finish line marks 3,022 km from Darwin.
As teams continue to arrive for the World Solar Challenge, here is a route map for the race. White dots are control stops.
The route here is generated by smoothing GPS position data collected in 2015, so it will not be 100% accurate.
An instructive saga in the history of engineering is the story of the British airships R100 and R101. As part of a grand social experiment, the R100 was built by private industry (it was designed by Barnes Wallis), while the R101 was built by the British government (specifically, by the Air Ministry, under Lord Thomson). The R100 worked fine, and made a test flight to Canada in August 1930 (the trip took 78 hours). Here is the R100 over a Toronto building:
The R100 was huge. Here is a size comparison of the R100 (219 m long) and an Airbus A380 (73 m long):
While the government-built R101 used servo motors to control its gigantic rudder, the R100 team had worked out that the rudder could actually be operated quite easily by hand, using a steering wheel and cables. The government-built R101 was beset by poor choices, in fact. It contained overly heavy engines, a steel frame, and too much dead weight overall. After construction, the R101 had to be lengthened by inserting a new 14-metre section in the centre, in order to increase lift. This alteration caused a number of problems. Its design also allowed the internal hydrogen-filled gasbags to chafe against the frame, there were serious problems with the outer covering, and several “innovative” design ideas were never properly tested.
There was enormous political pressure for the R101 to fly before it was ready to do so. On the evening of 4 October 1930, it departed for India with a crowd of VIPs on board. It never arrived, crashing in bad weather over France, and bursting into flames. The disaster led to the R100 also being grounded, and the British government abandoned any thoughts of flying airships (as the rest of the world was to do after the Hindenburg disaster).
There are all kinds of lessons to be drawn from the saga of the R100 and the R101. One of them is that optimism is not a viable strategy for safety-critical engineering. Another is that engineers test things. As Kipling says, “They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.” A third is that risky designs and fixed deadlines simply do not mix.