Information on this blog is raw and sometimes unverified reporting straight from the road by teams. The event will issue a media release for any events requiring an official notification.

Note that links in blog entries are not maintained, so while a link may be verified to work on the day of publishing, this is not guaranteed beyond that day.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Leeming Sungroper: Monday 19th: to Hidden Valley

Breakfast. Following yesterday's shopping mission, bags of Stuff have been distributed to each room. Each bag has identical Stuff, but multiple possible breakfasts can be created from the Stuff so provided. I have a cheesy.

8am is the appointed start of our coordinated day: everyone is to congregate at or outside room 116, so that John Beattie et al can outline the plan for the day. The plan for today is to take the only vehicle we have with a towball (i.e. the bus) to the shipping company, Shaw's Darwin Transport, in Palmerston, and pick up the trailer which contains Sungroper. Shaw's also shipped our logistics trailer, but since we only have one towball, it'll have to wait a bit. Shaw's in Perth told us that our gear would already be ready when we reached Darwin.

We get there. Oh, you should have phoned, says the guy. Your trailers are still in the backs of trucks. And it'll take us a while to unload them. After we figure out what trucks they're in, that is.

We go to the shopping centre to burn some time.

Hertz phone us up. Yesterday, they delivered us vehicles without towballs. They're calling to let us know that they're putting another Landcruiser in the shop, so that a towball can be fitted, so that they'll have a vehicle-with-towball to give us. Sweet.

Shaw's phone us up. Our trailers haven't been unloaded yet, but they are calling to let us know they want full payment before they'll give us anything. Just in case, I don't know, the entire WA government does a runner to avoid paying them. And Shaw's don't take cheques. Or credit cards.

John goes and empties his bank account to get the requisite cash. We bum around a little more until Shaw's let us know that the trailer is available. We pay, and pick up. We drive to Hidden Valley race track, which is in fact not terribly well hidden, mostly because it's on Hidden Valley Road, which is well signposted.

We find Peter D in short order, and he lets us into pit 16. There are half a dozen or so teams on site, including Aurora, MIT, Formosun and Michigan Solar. There's not a lot we can do with the car yet: all our tools are in the logistics trailer, which John is going back to Shaw's to get. So I spend some time chasing the remaining bug in the Sungroper electronics (which is that when you plug a Lillington go-switch-and-speed-knob box into the Lillington motor controller, it works fine, but when you plug our go-switch-and-speed-knob in, it doesn't). Our is niftier, partly because it additionally has a go button, a go light and is integrated with our brakes and telemetry, and partly because it is shiny.

Most of the rest of the team wander around the pits, visiting other teams. A few people stop by our pit, and chat. One of the Aurora people is suggesting that maybe it's time for a new class of solar race car, which is a bit more street-ready: takes two people, etc. Interesting.

We break for lunch. Meat-and-salad sandwiches prepared by some of the students. They are quite proud that they did today's shopping with a target of $200, and wound up spending $200.30.

Back to the racetrack. Andrew has arrived in Darwin and is waiting for us there. He shows me the board he's built to plug into our Extra Sensor board (which really we should call the Voltage Sense board, 'cos that's what it does), to collect wires from all over the car in a tidy way. Nifty.

Some students drive the race course in a Landcruiser, to familiarise themselves with it. Aurora does some laps. As it rushes past us down the straight, we hear the noise of its passage -- it is the sound of air tearing over its shell, with just a hint of motor sound underneath.

Steve Morgan works on the brakes. The brakes have had a mysterious fading problem, and Steve figures it must be the master cylinder. So he changes it for a new one.

I work on finding the speed controller bug. And I make a mistake.

Because, I mean, given that the speed knob box can be detached from the motor controller, you'd expect it to be designed so that when you have no speed knob at all attached, that the controller would interpret this as a request for zero speed. Wouldn't you? And you'd think that when you don't have a go switch connected, that the controller would be so designed as to interpret this as a request for not-go. Yes?

But this is not the case. I power up the car to test some numbers, trying to narrow down the bug. I do it without a go-switch-and-speed-knob connected to the controller. I lean over the side of the car and turn on the main breaker. I turn on the battery strings. I turn on the 12V. I turn on the 24V. And then I turn on the motor controller.

The car lurches, at full power, backwards, trying to leap out of its wheel chock and twist out from under me. I have the presence of mind to turn the motor controller off.

I've scared myself, twisted the wheel chock a bit, and left a 40 cm long burn-out on the floor of our pit, but I've gotten lucky and damaged nothing.

Some investigation later, I find the problem with our speed knob panel: one of the wires in the cable leading to it simply doesn't conduct. No sign of damage at either end; it just doesn't work. Moral: don't use telephone cable for mission-critical applications.

Our day is about done (and this email is too long). We return to the Alatai Apartments. Dinner is spaghetti bolognaise prepared by students in each room. There is some competition between students, visiting each others' rooms to check the relative quality of the fare. In all cases, the quality is good.

John discovers that a nifty way to supervise the distributed students is by giving each room a two-way radio. Much radio chatter ensues.

I drop in and visit my friends at Zone 3 Darwin, just a couple of blocks from where we're staying. I play a couple of games, and manage to rank second in my second game.

Back to the apartments. More radio chatter. Check email. Sleep. Tomorrow, we'll take the car out onto the track.

-- Doug Burbidge