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.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Greenfleet: It's a technology trial not a race.

The Greenfleet event is not a competition but provides an opportunity for manufacturers and others such as vehicle financing companies to show case their fuel efficient products. Even so, its interesting to watch the teams hang around the fuel pump as their perceived competition fills up. I noticed one team?a glint of delight when they realized that the team after them had used more fuel during the day, but their delight quickly faded when we reminded them that the second team had done a side trip to the Mattaranka Springs so litre for litre comparison did not makes sense. The fun continues.

Most of the teams are driving the cars to maximize fuel efficiency. This means they are traveling at between 70 -90 km per hour in zones where speed is unlimited. As a group traveling reasonably fast but just not fast by Northern Territory standards where speeds over 160km per hour are not unusual. The Northern Territory is the only state in Australia where these high speeds are tolerated without penalty so perhaps the slower speeds are more indicative of Australian conditions on the whole.

RBGAN Internet Cafe: Fri 30 Sept, Day 6 of race

Victoria Square: more cars rolling in today as well as a couple of green buses parked in the square (the Biodiesel and H2 Fuel Cell bus). The Solar cars are lined up and showing off all their glory. Definately worth a visit to come and see the latest technogy in action.

Leeming Sungroper: Friday 30th: litany

Around dawn, Steve reassembles the motor. But it still doesn't roll smoothly: the other bearing is stuffed, too. The first replacement bearing came out of our spare motor (the motor from the original Sungroper), but the spare has only one bearing this size, so we order new bearings from Coober Pedy, 150km south. The parents of one of the team members are in Coober Pedy, and they run the bearings up to us. An hour or two later, the parts arrive, and Steve fits them; but the motor is still not smooth: the drive shaft is bent.

How long has it been like this? We don't know. Possibly when the chain came off and locked the back wheel, the motor was put under undue strain, and the bearings toasted and the shaft bent then. Or possibly the motor was like this when it was delivered.

We push the car from where we're working on it back to the control stop, with only half the rear suspension connected because of the work we're doing. We serve our half hour, and push back. When we get there, and pop the array off, we discover that the half of the rear suspension we were using has not coped with the extra load, and is damaged.

In an attempt to get a working motor, we put the bearings back in the original Sungroper motor, solder on an additional plug so that we can connect it to the Tritium Gold Controller of Extreme Shinyness, fit a temperature sensor, and bolt it into the car.

When we test-run it, a nasty mechanical noise comes out of it, and we don't know why.

We pack, and trailer to Coober Pedy.

We roll out in the carpark of an underground backpacker's. Literally underground, of course, as this is the Coober Pedy style: a lot of housing and accommodation is simply tunnelled into the ground. This gives a nearly constant 27 degrees C all year round.

But not so in the carpark, blasted by wind which deposits a patina of red dust on everything, including the array. We clean the array with the last of our rain water. After we finish, it's still dirty, but it doesn't matter: if I push the whole power of the array into the batteries, two thirds of the battery pack heats up, one third dangerously so. So I turn on just one of the four array strings, to feed the batteries quarter power.

As we trailered to Coober Pedy, we had the back wheel hooked up to the remaining half of its suspension. When we roll out, we discover that this too has failed under the doubled load.

We acquire a crowd, several of whom are quite helpful.

John notices that we don't have any dash displays, despite 12V being turned on. We've not getting any telemetry either. I poke around with the multimeter, and discover that the 5V regulator, which is supposed to take 12V and cut it down to size for our 5V electronics, is not working. I replace it with one salvaged from another piece of gear. Now 5V works, but still almost none of the electronics that depends upon it is working. Andrew's +4 Voltage Sense Board of Rapid Prototyping is working, but nothing else. I swap in the master board chip from the original Sungroper, and now I get telemetry, but all the numbers are zero: every microcontroller chip in the car that takes that 5V and feeds data back to the master board has been zapped, presumably by the same thing that destroyed the 5V regulator.

(Note for geeks: I'm using a 7805 for 5V, instead of the TEM-1211 DC-to-DC converter used in Sungroper 1. This is because the TEM-1211 is now very rare and hard to buy, and no pin-for-pin replacement is available. A search on Google within Australia for TEM-1211 turns up exactly one hit: the Sungroper website. This means we do not have the isolation that the TEM-1211 would have provided. But I still have no idea how the boards got zapped.)

Steve fixes the rear suspension by removing it, and bolting the arms that used to go to it directly to the frame of the car. To provide some smoothness of ride, he decreases the pressure in the rear tyre.

John, Steve, and the audience look at the problem with the original Sungroper motor, and decide that it is a problem with the keyway. This is a slot in the shaft: when the sprocket slides on, it is this keyway that forces the sprocket to turn in time with the shaft. But it is loose, which will cause rapidly destructive wear. Options are discussed, and a solution involving glue is decided upon.

John takes the car for a short drive in the carpark to test the new non-suspension. Three metres in, the chain tensioner breaks again, and the chain falls off.

So one motor has a bent shaft, the other has a dodgy keyway, the tensioner is broken, the rear suspension is non-existent, the batteries won't charge, the array is red with dust, the electronics are all toast.

But the Tritium controller still works.

We go for pizza; John lays down the conservative strategy he intends to use: trailer to a few k short of the finish, set down, and solar across the line.

-- Doug Burbidge

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Greenfleet: Greenfleet Class show cases fuel efficient technology and low carbon fuels

The Greenfleet event showcases emerging and fuel efficient technology for cars. We monitor each vehicle?s fuel consumption between Darwin and Adelaide being a journey of nearly 3,500 km.

The Greenfleet class has a range of vehicles entered which include hybrid petrol engines, Honda Insight and Honda Civic Hybrid, diesels, Smart Car (2 seater), Peugot 307 (1.6L) and a Holden Astra, a conventional petrol engine Mitsuibishi Colt, a Toyota Landcruiser running on biodiesel made from Canola Oil, a 1925 Austin running on ethanol produced from sugar cane and last but not least, an electric car entered by the Anesley College.

Each day we refuel each car and monitor the kilometers and the distance traveled. After each refueling we seal the tanks with security tape. Its very tricky tape which leaves a nasty ?security? print on the car when its removed. What is important for this class is the average fuel consumption over the journey not who gets there fastest. Its not a race.

Soleon: September 29th - Late Night, 100km North of Port Augusta, South Australia

The excitement is building as we not only put another half an hour cushion between ourselves and Kelly, for a total of about an hour, we gained half an hour on the team in front of us, Umicore, from Belgium. With nothing more than a few insignificant smatterings of cloud, we had an ideal day of sunshine to plough ahead.

The morning started off with a little birthday breakfast for BJ, French toast and bacon. Although he is 21 in Australia, we had a little discussion as to whether he wanted to celebrate on Aussie or Canadian time, we settled for both. To follow up, BJ found a few extra treats in his lunch cooler and we fired up Jonathan?s Pizzaria once again for dinner, a BJ, and team, favorite. I had hoped to grant his first wish of rack of lamb, but our cooking facilities make that dish a gamble. We ended the night sitting around a roaring campfire, under a starry sky, eating birthday cake.

The morning drive was once again flat, red, and open, a Martian Saskatchewan. At some points the trees disappeared outright, exposing the vastness of the terrain around us. Once again, the strong wind gusts cut through the stillness of the Outback, jostling all our vehicles around.

As we approached Coober Pedy, we came upon the first signs of the extensive Opal mining that goes on in the area. Mounds of rock and dirt popped up on the horizon, small at first like desert moguls, later growing to every imaginable size, some as large as buildings. Some were as white as snow, beautifully contrasting the crimson sun baked ground. Coober Pedy boasts their unique, underground hotel rooms, which we can only imagine as we did not have the opportunity to stay in one.

We reached our checkpoint at Glendambo by mid-afternoon and after our mandatory wait, we raced on. Using our WSC route book, we aimed for a rest stop as a safe place to set up camp for the night; we hit it at five o'clock on the nose. We're now in a region dominated by huge lakebeds, all with various amounts of water, some with none at all. BJ and Jonathan paused at one, Lake Hart, and were told by some of the locals that we were lucky to have seen it full of water since it apparently only fills up every fifty years or so. We'll take it as a good omen and a reflection of how full our own hearts are after this awesome experience.

Spirits are so high right now it's hard to describe. Garett and Colby took the car further down the race route to scout out the Belgian team. We were ecstatic to learn that we are only 16 and a half (yes, we're counting down to the meter) kilometers behind them. With only about 400km to go to the finish line we are all hungry to overtake one more team and make the top ten.

Going into our third day traveling through Southern Australia you can see how the Southern Australian portion of the Stuart highway has taken on a distinct, reddish hue, it's like they rolled out the red carpet to signal our arrival. I can assure everyone that if we continue to perform as we have been, even though we will be arriving without having showered, finishing this race will leave us all feeling like a million bucks, worthy of a red carpet welcome!

Aussie phrase of the day "The race was heaps fun?" Translation: "The race was a lot of fun?".

Laurie Heilman Bell MASc. Communications Manager/Nutritional Advisor University of Calgary Team Soleon

Aurora: 29 September, Day 5

We had a meal at local pub, and spent the night in cabins at a nearby caravan park, out of the cold weather.

At 6:00, we were back at the finish of timing, charging the car for the final drive into the centre of Adelaide.

We are in no particular hurry now. We left the finish of timing at about 8:30, and drove the final 20km into the city.

About a kilometre from Victoria Square we parked our support vehicles and piled into the WSC bus, which led the solar car to the finish line. The new finish procedure worked well---the entire team were together as we crossed the line, where we were cheered in by a large crowd (mainly Dutch!)

We will be in Victoria Square until Sunday afternoon. If you are in Adelaide, come and see us.

RBGAN Internet Cafe: Thurs 29 Sept, Day 5 of race

Here we are in Victoria Square and the Aurora team have just crossed the finish line - go you Aussies! Chatted to the Aurora team manager who mentioned what a great difference it made being able to use the rbgan for communications whilst on route.

Whilst in the past he would dictate his team reports to a colleague via telephone, this year, with the aid of the rbgan terminal, they were able to upload reports directly to the web, check emails and even web-surf right in the middle of the desert. Revolutionary!

Leeming Sungroper: Thursday 29th: to Cadney

Again I am not on dawn array duty; again this is a Good Thing. Several students and a couple of teachers climb the hill again. We trailer out of the caravan park about 40 minutes after the official 8am start time. We set down a couple of hundred kilometres further down the track, and solar. We have a tail wind again, and patchy cloud again, but today the clouds are much smaller, and are whipping past us at much faster than our 32 km/h road speed: we are being overtaken by the clouds.

We solar past a Telstra repeater station. These small huts occur every couple of hundred kilometres along the highway; each is a smallish hut with two big masts of solar panels outside. The panels power the optic fibre repeaters, which listen for a weak pulse coming in on one optic fibre, amplify it, and push the message along -- light driving light through an underground network crossing the continent.

As we pull in to a bay beside the road for a driver change, the temperature alarm goes off -- again the motor is overheating. We elect to trailer for a little while so that the motor can cool down. While trailering, the mech team in the lead vehicle design some additional cooling cowling for the motor. We set down at Kulgara roadhouse, pop the top, gaffer-tape some cardboard in strategic spots around the fan and motor, and solar on. We solar across the Northern Territory / South Australia border. Our doco team have lined up a bunch of tourists at the border monument to cheer us on as we pass.

A few kilometres further, on a long slow uphill, the temperature alarm goes off again. This section of the road is elevated above the plain, presumably for resistance to flooding, so there's just barely room to pull off. We put a student out the back of our convoy with the red flag, and largely stay in our vehicles 'til the temperature alarm shuts up. Then we solar a couple more k to a rest stop and charge for half an hour. The support bus catches up -- they've been slowed down by a blown tyre. We trailer to Cadney roadhouse. 98 solar kilometres for the day.

We arrive at the Cadney checkpoint at 5:02pm, so we'll serve our 30 minute stopover from 8:02am to 8:32am tomorrow.

Steve floats the idea of fitting a 19-tooth sprocket to the motor, in place of the 15-tooth we've got there now. We've got no more big hills to climb, so I can't argue against it. He jacks up the back wheel and pops the chain off. Then he discovers that the back wheel doesn't roll freely: the rear brake is dragging. It was too small an amount to notice with the car jacked and the chain on, and too small to notice when rolling the car forward and back by hand. Steve adjusts the brake. With the chain back on, there's a funny noise coming from the motor. Steve finds a bolt rubbing very slightly against the motor fan cowling. He spaces it off. Better, but still a funny noise. He opens the motor, and finds a bad bearing.

Then it's a long slow disassemble of the motor into an ever increasing number of pieces, in fading light, in the gravel carpark of a truck stop in the middle of nowhere. Steve puts the new bearing in, but on reassembly discovers that he has one piece left over. There is a word for this phenomenon in Liff, I am sure.

We elect to put the piece back into the motor in the morning.

The evening is cold, and for the first time our team jackets come in handy. Dinner is chicken satay sticks plus vegie and mash, in our circle of chairs. The circle is getting slightly bigger as the days go by: we now have three sets of parents of students following us more or less closely as we journey: travelling off to do touristy things by themselves, and occasionally rejoining camp to see how their progeny are doing.

-- Doug Burbidge

Leeming Sungroper: Friday, 29th: SMS Update

Doug sends:

Cadney overnight. Motor bearing bad. Put in new bearings; motor shaft bent. Put in Sungroper 1 motor: bad also. Trailering to Coober Pedy

Presumably they will have a better chance to do something in Coober Pedy.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Greenfleet: Coming to the Alice?..

The Greenfleet Class of vehicles traveled down to Alice Springs today. Most of the teams left Tennant Creek by 8.30am and took advantage of a stop off at the ?Devil?s Marbles?. A mystical grouping of large boulders lying literally like a pile of massive marbles. I could spend all day there and I truly struggle to return to the car to make it to the next stop for refueling. It doesn?t seem fair to be so close to so many wonderful sights and not have sufficient time to do them real justice but onto the Alice we went.

Alice Springs is known as the dead heart of Australia but it seems alive and kicking to me ? shopping malls, new hotels and even a casino. Alice Springs is set between the outcrops of rock know as the MacDonald Ranges. Its difficult to describe how beautiful this town is. The rocky outcrops which run oranges and reds are lined by white barked ghost gums and set against a sky so blue it must have a lens filter on it. The soil out here is a magnificent red, deep rich luminous earthy red. I never become tired of being in this part of the country; it?s too spectacular.

At the end of each day we attend a community event: sausage sizzle and cold drinks. Today the cars were parked in the city?s Todd Mall and it was great to mix with the locals and to see their interest in the cars. I find great enjoyment dispelling mistaken beliefs about these cars. ?How often do you have to plug the hybrid to recharge it?? is a particular favourite. It seems that there is a much work to be done when it comes to the average person?s understanding of alternatives to the fuel guzzling petrol engine.

Soleon: September 28th - Late Night, Cadney Homestead, South Australia

Mission accomplished! We managed to overtake Team Kelly today, the production class leader, and reigning production class champion from the 2003 WSC. By the end of the day we had put 20 minutes between us, a margin we hope to increase tomorrow.

We started the day right on time at 8:06 a.m. in 2nd place. Team Kelly, out of Adelaide, led us by 50 minutes, while AGU from Japan, trailed us by 10 minutes. Within 2 hours, we had passed Kelly, thus gaining first place. At noon, the driver was replaced, Colby taking over for Kyle, and shortly after, the rear tire blew. During the change, which took about 6 minutes, Kelly passed us and the race was on. Within 1 hour, we had passed Kelly again, and did not see them again until the mandatory control point stop of Cadney Homestead. The AGU team stopped about 80 km before the control point, which translates to about 1 � hours of driving time.

Anything can happen as there are still at least 2 days left in the race, but we are confident that we stay competitive. Since Nuna completed the race today, in a record breaking time of just over 29 hours, our focus is on the production class prize.

The greatest challenge of the day was the intense wind. We passed through some very open terrain today so there was nothing to shield us from the strong gusts. The wind was strong enough to flatten the bottoms of the billowing clouds like a spatula over mashed potatoes, paralleling the cloud bottoms with the flat terrain. Visiting with Kelly at the end of the day, we learned their right wheel actually became airborne twice when meeting with two of the stronger gusts. Fortunately for us, the wind only managed to fan the fire of our motivation to win.

Jonathan, our team photographer, had a less fortunate day as the backpack he had strapped to the back of the truck came loose and was dragged for a few minutes, totaling and/or scattering much of what was inside. The only blessing was that his camera equipment was safely stored in the cab of the truck. We have begun to piece together what we can to replace what he lost, but there are a few items that the Outback, and our team, just don?t have on hand.

As I write this, Colby and I are scouring the Stuart Highway in search of Kangaroos as we?re running out of time, and Outback, to find one. To date, the only ones we have seen have been the plush versions you find in gift shops and the dead ones on the side of the road. Even the dead ones are becoming a rare site as Team Nuon (Nuna) had a car assigned to clearing road kill from the race route to ensure their safe passage. We are now returning unsuccessful, but it would be difficult to dampen our spirits today!

Aussie phrase of the day: ?He went out into the mulga to look for some roos.? Translation: ?He went out into the Outback looking for some kangaroos.?

Laurie Heilman Bell MASc. Communications Manager/Nutritional Advisor University of Calgary Team Soleon

Aurora: 28 September, Day 4

Sunrise. The sky is covered in clouds, and there is a strong wind from the southwest. The entire team is at the array stand holding down the array.

The sun occasionally comes out from behind the clouds, giving us a few minutes of bright sunlight.

It is raining.

We got very little charge again this morning. Our batteries are 35% full, but the sky is completely overcast and there is a very strong headwind. We set off at 80km/h.

At 0840, we have the windscreen wipers on in the lead car. We are getting only occasional patches of sunlight. But it is clearing out to the west.

We arrived at the Glendambo control point at 9:06, about 8 minutes ahead of Michigan. TIGA are nowhere in sight.

The cloud front is running parallel to the road. Five minutes out of Glendambo, we crossed onto the sunny side. We are getting about 10% more power than we expect because of reflection from the edges of the clouds.

By 10:10, we were back under the cloud.

Michigan overtook us at about 11:30. Shortly afterwards, we both came out of the clouds into bright sunlight.

We are sitting right behind Michigan, doing about 85km/h. Our battery level is slowly increasing above our planned discharge profile.

We pulled into Port Augusta just behind Michigan. TIGA was not far behind.

Michigan had to do some work on their car (remove a chunk of metal wedged in the front), so we left 30 seconds before them.

Michigan overtook us at 14:55. We are now sitting behind Michigan, to see who's battery will die first. The sky is still cloudy.

In the most exciting and stressful leg of the race, Todd has fallen asleep in the lead car.

At 15:20, Michelin slowed to 75km/h. This is good---our battery charge is dropping a little too fast.

It is raining, and very windy.

Nuna has passed the finish of timing, with an average speed of 102km/h.

At 15:50, Michigan pulled over with a flat tyre. We continued in the rain at 60km/h.

After Port Wakefield, we decided that we could safely increase our speed---if the battery voltage started dropping, we would still have enough energy in the battery to limp to the finish line. We sped up to 105km/h. The battery voltage did not drop until 10km north of the finish of timing. We crossed the finish of timing at 17:05.

If Michigan or TIGA cannot get to the finish line before 8:05, we will be second.

We have been told that Michigan is at Port Wakefield, and TIGA is 25km further north. Second again!

RBGAN Internet Cafe: Wed 28 Sept, Day 4 of race

We have now set up camp in Victoria Square, Adelaide and have witnessed a very happy Nuon team cross the finish line to a sea of orange cheering supporters. We'll be here till Sunday so drop in and visit - we are just near the Panasonic cafe. Bye for now! Diana Minglis Marketing manager

Leeming Sungroper: Wednesday 28th: cloud

We pack the camp. This is made more challenging by the wind, which tends to blow the tents onto the barbed wire fence. We roll the car into the trailer, and trailer towards Alice Springs. We set down and solar. Today's solaring is made more challenging by the presence of cloud: there is maybe 80% cloud cover. On the other hand, we do have a strong tail wind. We solar along, drawing power out of the pack to get through the cloud. Then the temperature alarm goes off. We pull over and try to figure out why the motor is so hot. We look, but nothing seems out of place. We solar on a little, and the alarm goes off again. We take the array off again, but still everything seems unchanged from yesterday. Eventually, we figure it out: we've moving at about 35 km/h, and the tail wind is about 35 km/h. This means that our cooling fan, blowing air over the motor, is inadequate by itself, and we need extra airflow to keep the motor cool. We improvise a shroud with polycarb and gaffer tape, to focus the airflow from the fan. This time, the temperature stays around 55 degrees.

We solar on through patchy sun to Alice Springs. We successfully solar through town, through four traffic lights, through the Heavitree Gap, and in to the checkpoint. Then, out of the 30 minutes we are required to stop at the checkpoint, I spend 40 of them trying to figure out why telemetry has been down for the past two hours. It turns out that two of the three cigarette lighters in the Landcruiser have blown fuses, as has one of the cigarette lighter double adapters, plus the 9V battery I'm using to run the telemetry receiver in the absence of 12V is now flat, plus Pyustration has crashed. I'm leaning more and more towards thinking that 12V is a fundamentally bad way to pipe power around - if I were scratch-designing a production car, I'd be tempted to go 110V or 240V, and invert that down to lower voltages where necessary.

We solar out of the checkpoint and take the right turn that continues us down the Stuart Highway, but soon decide that in the absence of sun, we're only going to be able to go a trivial distance. We call it a wrap, our new observer (hi, Peter!) spraypaints the road, and we bring the trailer around.

And then of course the sun comes out. But our decision is still valid: cloud cover is still about 80%, and any given patch of sun doesn't last long. So we return to camp, a caravan park not far from the checkpoint. It's only 4pm, so we set the array up to get some sun. 107 solar kilometres for the day, despite the cloud.

-- Doug Burbidge


Wednesday PM:

The Mac Donnell Ranges caravan park is very nice. Several students climb one of the large hills behind the caravan park; these presumably are the Mac Donnell Range. Word comes that Nuna have won the race, beating their previous record and averaging 103 km/h, despite having to obey all speed limit signs. In the evening, there is a live performance by a local singer; our cameraman gets up and plays wobble-board on one song. We all cheer him on.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Greenfleet: This is a great to to start


I am sitting in the car park at Aileron which is 140km north of th Alice. This is my first go at a real remote office. We always laugh at work that the local cafe where we hold meetings with coffee is the local remote office but it has nothing on this. Our group has stopped for a photo opportunity for the local media and I am causing a sensation with this technology. Its fantastic!

The teams are all going really well. A couple of hiccups with support vehicles and one car overdid the speed (real speed) on the highway and their fuel consumption reduced to a normal car - hence the problem. But its all fun.

Soleon: September 27th - Late Night, South of Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Today was a magnificent day for both racing and site-seeing, it was a goosebump worthy despite the heat. There was barely a cloud in the sky and without a single breakdown we managed to pass the Japanese team! Kudos goes to Ryan and Shawn as they appear to have worked out the electrical bugs that have been plaguing us like the Aussie flies! We are now trailing Kelly (the Southern Australian team leading our class) by 50 minutes. With half of race left, catching up is not an impossible task, more a motivating challenge.

We passed the much talked about Devil's Marbles early today. These enormous red boulders are believed by the aborigines to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent and the site is regarded as highly spiritual place to visit in dreams. To others, the marbles are a marvel of Mother Nature and a natural playground fit for all ages. As I climbed to the top of a "marble" pile and peered out across the Outback I understood the aboriginal perspective; I certainly do hope to visit them again in my dreams.

As we moved further south, the termite mounds (which may in fact be petrified ant hills as I learned from a souvenir fridge magnet) have begun to diminish in size. They now crop up like primitive headstones in some forgotten cemetery. Most striking along this current stretch, is the intensity of the red soil. At some points you could see for miles, perched atop the red soil like an endless terra cotta rooftop, the view only broken up by trees that looked as though they were hand picked from an Ansel Adams photograph collection.

Driving through Alice Springs was another breath-taking experience as the flat landscape opened up into valleys. The hills surrounding the area are quite unique, looking more like giant piles of red rocks. After making it through the Alice Springs checkpoint with minutes to spare, we pushed as far as we could, ending about 10km outside of Alice Springs. We quickly fired up our mobile kitchen and made personal pizzas in Chef Jonathan's Pizzeria. Jonathan has been a wonderful help in the "kitchen" on several occasions, proving he is as much a culinary artist as a photographic artist.

After dinner we took turns checking our email, using up the battery power on a couple of laptops. Every morning BJ sets up an internet cafe of sorts in the cab of our truck, although there's usually too much going on for all of us to cycle through it. The evening edition of his internet cafe gave a number of us a much needed chance to briefly connect with family and friends. Kyle, Travis and Ryan were fortunate to receive a lesson in astronomy and navigation as they sat out under a blanket of stars with our newest observer, Peter, a seasoned Outback and WSC adventurer.

It's great to watch the team in such high spirits and working together. Although there was a little concern that we were not bringing enough people on this race, our numbers seem to be just perfect as no one is too overworked or standing around idle. We certainly step on each others toes at times, but that's all part of being a family in the home away from home we have created out here in the Outback.

Aussie phrase of the day: "Ta" Translation: "Thanks" or an affirmative acknowledgment of something, often heard when you hand something to an Aussie. I thought this was an appropriate choice as I feel I was handed a great deal in the Outback today.

Laurie Heilman Bell MASc. Communications Manager/Nutritional Advisor University of Calgary Team Soleon

Aurora: 27 September, Day 3

The airport forecast for Alice Springs says clear, and the forecasts for the northern and western districts say fine and sunny.

We had 10 minutes of charging this morning before the sun disappeared behind the only cloud in the sky. By 7:00, the entire sky was filled with clouds.

We left our overnight stop at 8:07, and headed off at 95km/h. Our battery is over 60% full, which will help us get through the cloudier conditions over the next couple of days.

By 8:50, the end of the clouds was in sight. We sped up to 100km/h.

We came out from under the clouds at 9:50, and slowed to 95km/h to recover some of the energy we used getting beyond the clouds.

At 10:30 we passed the Michigan truck. We are now sitting right behind Michigan. We are both doing 95km/h.

Michigan appear to be slowing. At 11:10, we passed them and resumed travelling at 95km/h. Soon afterwards, we increased our speed to 100km/h.

At 12:20, about 100km from Cadney, we slowed back down to 95km/h. This is the sunniest part of the route, and a good opportunity to get some more energy into our battery for tomorrow.

We arrived at the Cadney control point at 13:22. Nuna were long gone. Michigan arrived 7 minutes behind us. TIGA arrived just as we were getting ready to leave.

For the rest of the afternoon, we ran at 95-100km/h.

At 16:00, the clouds started rolling in from the west. We are not going to get a full charge tonight. We slowed to 95km/h, to allow the charge to build up while we are driving.

We stopped at Bon Bon for the night. It has almost everything we could want---toilets, water, shelter, picnic benches. The only thing missing is our big trailer, which stopped 50km north of Coober Pedy with a blocked fuel line. But it is on its way, and should be here just before dark.

The western sky is now very cloudy. The forecast for northern South Australia is for morning showers. The forecast for Adelaide in the afternoon is for rain and possibly small hail. Tomorrow will be interesting.

Leeming Sungroper: Tuesday 27th: skid

I look out of my tent five minutes before dawn, and I can still see the Sungroper trailer in camp. We hustle over to the other side of the road, where we'll get a clear shot at the dawn, roll out, and hang the array. Breakfast gets brought over to me. I get back to camp, shower, pack. We load Sungroper, and trailer to Tennant Creek.

We do our half-hour at the checkpoint, change observers (welcome, Don!), fuel the lead vehicle, then solar out.

About 20km out of Tennant Creek, the tensioner holding the drive chain in place fatigues and breaks. The chain fouls the back wheel, locking it -- two teeth break off the drive wheel sprocket and the car paints a 15 metre skid mark on the road. Support pull a U-turn, and come back. We leap out of follow and push the car off the road; thankfully the chain has come loose and the car rolls smoothly off.

We get the array off, and spot the broken part. Our mechanical team put the chain back on, but without the tensioner it'll fall off again as soon as we hit a bump; and there are several bumps between us and where the road surface begins. The mech team decide to improvise a tensioner using some stainless steel wire - now all we have to do is find where we've put the roll of wire. The support bus with the rest of the team in it arrives, and while the mech team hunt through their various boxes we radio up to the bus to see if they've got anything that will do the job required. No coat-hangers; no random bits of steel are found. The observer has a paper clip; not strong enough.

The assistant clerk stops by on his way up the course; he's just closed the checkpoint behind us. He and our former observer, Wendy, spectate.

Eventually the wire is found right where it's supposed to be: in the tool kit. "Have a girl's look!" says John, meaning that guys fail to spot things right under their noses, but girls will find it every time. The new tensioner is improvised, we jump back into cars, and solar on.

We complete 79 solar kilometres for the day, and trailer forward. The support bus checks out Barrow Creek, but declares it unsuitable, so we stop at a picnic/camp area featuring a water tank, an outhouse, and nothing else. Tents are pitched, the circle of chairs set up, and a camp fire assembled. Steve cooks using camp ovens. The generator is started, providing some lighting, which attracts approximately 1.3 billion flying insects, and power to battery chargers for our constellation of electronica.

After eating, we turn out the lights and appreciate the stars. We spot two satellites. One student cracks open a glow stick, paints himself in glowing phosphor, and dances in the dark.

-- Doug Burbidge

Leeming Sungroper: Sept 27

Doug sends:

Solared 137km on Day 2 (Yesterday, Monday) Camped at Elliot Trailered to Tennant Creak Have just started solaring (10am Perth, 12 noon Darwin, Day 3, Today, Tuesday)

-- Enjoy, Peter.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Soleon: September 26th - Late Night Tennant Creek, Northern Territory

It's hard to believe it was only our second day of racing, it seems like we've been at it much longer. The flies are slowly starting to lessen, but the ones that linger are relentless, much like the heat. While waiting for the solar car to catch up, Garett and I parked the campervan at a place called Attack Creek. It's aptly named as we were brutally attacked by flies on the trek to the restroom. I nearly gave up and turned around despite the fact I only had about 50 meters to walk.

We faced equal challenges with the solar car today as what turned out to be a bad connection caused multiple power failures. The electrical team now believes they have repaired the problem, but only the race tomorrow will tell us for sure. Even with these failures we managed to reach our goal of Tennant Creek, adding another 500km to our distance traveled. We were not able to camp at Devil's Marbles as we had hoped, but for the opposite reason I had anticipated. The picturesque site is actually further south on the race route, just out of our reach for today.

Overall, the team is very happy with our performance. When we are cruising, we are able to run consistently at about 70-80 km/h and if we can maintain our average of 500 km per day we will reach Adelaide with a day to spare.

We are having some very interesting experiences on our travels. Last night our media relations team member, Greg, shared his hotel bathroom with some frogs, while both Ryan and BJ reported meeting up with geckos in their rooms. A moment ago Colby just killed a nice sized cockroach in our room, followed by a healthy sized spider and for a grand finale, a cricket. I have often appreciated that the Canadian winter brings relief from bugs, but never more than right now!

A more novel hazard we've come across in the Outback, more menacing than even the four trailer long semis known as "road trains" we've been passing on the highway, are the mini tornadoes that tear through the Outback. These dirt devils are called "willie willies" by the Aussies. On the drive from Adelaide, BJ and I spotted two, and although most are harmless and appear as no more than wisps of red dust, the second one we encountered was several meters wide and so thick with dirt and debris it was black. Our first instinct was to marvel at it and even slow down to assess it, but as we saw it was on a collision course with our car, we quickly sped off. Garett and I saw two again today, although like most of them, they were small enough to be merely interesting, rather than alarming.

Since we reached the control point at Tennant Creek right at the close of the day, we must endure our mandatory half an hour wait first thing in the morning. This has the benefit of giving us extra time to charge the batteries first thing in the morning. The sun sets so quickly in the evening we only manage to recharge about an eighth of a pack at the end of the day. With any luck, the extra morning top up will give us enough juice to pass the Japanese team we've been trailing.

By this time tomorrow I hope to be writing from at least Alice Springs, the well known half way point of the race! On behalf of the entire team, I also want to mention to all our family and friends with whom we have not been able to communicate, that it's not for lack of trying, but rather a lack of cellular reception and spotty internet service that has to be shared by the whole group. We are thinking of you and we are all doing well!

Aussie phrase of the day: "I'm just here to have a sticky beak" Translation: "I'm just here to have a look." (Said today by a couple who came to check out the solar cars).

--Laurie Heilman Bell Communications Manager/Nutritional Advisor University of Calgary Team Soleon

Aurora: 26 September, Day 2

The sky was a little hazy last night and this morning, so we did not quite get as much recharge energy as we expected. But we still have plenty of charge for the remaining journey to Adelaide, and are expecting to be in Alice Springs by the end of the day.

We set off at 08:00 doing 100km/h. At 08:30, TIGA overtook us. We overtook them again at 09:30, doing 105km/h.

We arrived at Tennant Creek, 250km from our overnight stop, at about 10:30. We were 5 minutes behind Michigan. Nuna were already gone. TIGA were one minute behind us. The race for second position is very close.

Our youngest member, Todd (13), forgot to get the strategy car lunches our of the boot at Tennant Creek, so we are surviving on Scotch Finger biscuits. But he is doing a good job keeping track of our location along the route, so we will probably keep him.

The leg from Tennant Creek to Alice Springs is about 500km. If it is hot in the car, we may have to stop for a driver change.

TIGA overtook us again at midday. We are cruising at 100km/h. TIGA, who beat us at Suzuka earlier this year, appear to be "borrowing" our strategy, two-hundred metres ahead of us. Very cunning!

At 15:30, TIGA started slowing. We overtook them.

We arrived at the Alice Springs control stop before 16:30. Nuna were long gone. Michigan were still about 6 minutes ahead. TIGA was just behind us. We left the control stop just before 17:00, and camped on the outskirts of Alice.

There are predictions of clear skies tomorrow, but cloud in Adelaide on Wednesday. The battle for second place is going to be interesting.

RBGAN Internet Cafe: Mon 26 Sept, Day 2 of race

With all our computers, phones and RBGAN?s batteries recharged we took the opportunity to hit the road early. We left the hotel at 06:10 with a warning to watch for roos at this time of day and we should be in Tennant Creek by midday, some 669klms away. After an hour and a half we stopped for breakfast and fuel at Larrimah, before we were back on the road again. We passed a number of the solar cars on the trip, and they were all making good speed. We arrived in Tennant Creek just before our intended time of 1PM, and found ourselves a shady position, but then found we couldn?t get a decent signal strength, so we had to move out into the hot, unshaded, carpark. Once there we set up for business, but there were few takers as the field had spread out so much, and the majority of the field had already passed the control point, although when we presented ourselves at the control point , we were told, ?Everyone?s been looking for you!? It seems our service has become integral to some of the teams operations. At about 4PM, we drove out of Tennant Creek looking for a ?Welcome to Tennant Creek? sign for the obligatory PR photo, and then returned to town to set up for the evenings Greenfleet display at the Civic Centre. The display went well, and we had a few enquiries from prospective purchasers, as well as a couple of WSC observers taking advantage of the opportunity to do some web surfing

Leeming Sungroper: Monday 26th: Katherine to Elliott

Andrew is leaving us today, returning to Darwin. That means he also gets to do dawn array patrol. We're allowed to start charging at dawn, so Andrew and some others drive 4km or so from the caravan park to the checkpoint, roll the solar car out of its trailer, and put the array on its mounts on the side of trailer, facing the rising sun.

I rise a little later, and we travel out to join the car.

Strategy: we can't start solaring before 8am, so our only choice 'til then is to charge. But from 8am onwards, we have options. We've got enough in the battery pack from this morning's and yesterday evening's charge to solar for maybe 4 hours at maybe 35 km/h, we have 7 hours to get to Dunmurra checkpoint, and it's 358 km away. Clearly, we have to spend some of this distance trailering at 110 km/h. So of our 7 hours, which 4 should we spend solaring? The correct answer, for those of you who are following along at home, is approximately the middle 4 hours of the day, when the sun is most directly overhead, and we will get maximum possible output from our array.

So at 8am, we set out trailering.

Or not. We don't have our act together, so we actually start trailering at 8:35. We go forward 140km to a bay marked on the official route notes, set down, and solar at about 36 km/h.

We driver-change a couple of times, then trailer forward to Dunmurra. At the checkpoint, there's a board showing who went through this checkpoint when: Nuna was in the lead, with Michigan hot behind. We also get a new observer: Wendy. We hold for our compulsory half hour, then trailer onwards. We set down and solar some more, but the battery goes flat before we reach the pull-over that we were aiming for. We spend some frustrating time crawling along, ever slower, then give up, pull off the side of the road, and load. We trailer forward to Elliott, which is our camp site. We get there at 5:18pm, which puts us into penalty time: for every minute from 5:00pm to 5:10pm, we must start one minute later tomorrow; for every minute beyond 5:10pm, we must start two minutes later tomorrow. So our 5:18pm finish translates into 8:00 + 0:10 + 0:08 x 2 = 8:26am.

We're camping in the Elliott caravan park. When I get there after our dusk charge, camp is already set up. We eat, barbecued marinated beef and chicken with mashed potato, peas and corn, in a big circle of camp chairs under a ghost gum. I mention to the circle at large that some of the chirping sounds we can hear are sonar pings, as bats whirl and swoop to the campground's lights, snapping bugs out of the air. One student immediately retreats to her tent.

We discuss strategy for the following day, and sleep.

- - -

Footnote for WAians: John is talking to Eoin Cameron each day before 8am NT time, so that's before 6:30am Perth.

-- Doug Burbidge

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Soleon: September 25th - Late Night near Larrimah, Northern Territory

We officially have a second race start under our belt! It was an early morning, with the all cars having to report to the race start by 6 am to prepare for the 8am start. The crowd was a moderate size, enough to feel important, but not enough to appear crowded.

Although initially the day seemed promising, Soleon began losing power within the first two hours of racing. The problem was sourced to the motor controller, which was replaced with a time cost of only 20 minutes.

At the first control point stop in Katherine, our telemetry data showed that about one quarter of our solar panels were not functioning. Ryan, our electrical manager, investigated the problem, tracing it to a faulty connection, and repaired it with only a five minute price tag.

After a quick driver change, Soleon left the control stop with a fully operational array. At approximately kilometer 360, Soleon began losing power again. After a little verbal troubleshooting, Ryan and Colby decided that the motor controller was overheating. The high ambient temperature (roughly 35 degrees) and low airflow in the car were felt to be contributing factors. To increase air flow, the wheel well covers were removed and after a short stop at the side of the road to allow the controller to cool, Soleon was again off and rolling. Thankfully, no more problems were encountered for the rest of the day and Team Soleon was able to log almost 500 kilometers.

Garett and I caught up with the rest of the team about 10 minutes after they stopped for the day and we took our first stab at campervan living. We managed to prepare a nice dinner, but with no hook-ups for the air conditioning, and 10-12 people sandwiched inside, the camper felt more like a sweat lodge. The alternative was to stand outside, which meant risking your sanity combating flies.

After dinner, the team settled into their various dwellings, some in tents, others in cars, and a few in the camper. After some discussion, we drove the camper 5 minutes further down the race route and found a campsite with hook-ups, which provided a slightly more comfortable living environment. This environment was briefly interrupted when Garett removed his shoes and socks for the night. After enduring a number of complaints, he agreed to visit the shower facilities to wash his odorous feet. As he exited the camper he found that we had attracted a group of donkeys, he surprised about 8 of them as he opened the door. Startled, the donkeys quickly ran off to the highway, where Garett pursued them in hopes of saving some money on the food budget. Fortunately for the donkeys, his hunting skills leave a little to be desired, so in short, we?ll be sticking with the chicken and beef stocked in our fridge.

We plan to make it at least another 500km tomorrow, hopefully more. We would all love to camp at the stunning camp area nestled in the Devil?s Marbles, but unfortunately we?re just under 500km from that site so we will, in all likelihood, be making another sacrifice in the pursuit of solar car success. Regardless of where we land, tomorrow?s start is approaching fast?so until tomorrow, good night!

Aussie phrase of the day: Why ya so buggered? Translation: Why are you in such a bad mood?

Laurie Heilman Bell Communications Manager/Nutritional Advisor University of Calgary Team Soleon

Aurora: 25 September, Day 1

This year we had a new starting procedure, with solar cars and support cars sent off from the Supreme Court square at one-minute intervals. It worked well.

At the last set of traffic lights before the highway veers left towards Alice Springs, our chase car stopped for a red light. When they got going again, they missed the turn to Alice Springs and headed towards Perth. Fortunately, we were able to put our lead car behind the solar car and use TIGA's chase car as our lead car until we got our wayward chase car back.

By the outskirts of Darwin, we had passed Formosun and TIGA. Michigan were still ahead.

By 10.00 we were cruising at 105km/h. Nuna overtook us.

Mid morning, the clouds started rolling in.

Just outside Katherine, we caught up to another solar car (Nuna?) at roadworks. But we then got stuck at the lights for 5 minutes.

At the Katherine stop, we were about 8 minutes behind Michigan and 4 minutes behind Nuna. TIGA and Formosun are right behind us.

At 12:30 we passed Michigan, who where changing a tyre by the side of the road.

Michigan passed us again at 14:00. The sky is almost clear again.

We arrived in Dunmarra behind Nuna and Michigan, with TIGA right behind us and Formosun not far behind.

We finished the day 16km south of Elliot, further than we have ever gone before on day one of the WSC.

RBGAN Internet Cafe: Sun 25 Sept, Race day

The cafe hit the road early in order to be set up at the Katherine control point before the first cars arrived. We had just completed setting up as the first solar car rolled into the control point, and they had started about 30 minutes behind us, so there is no lack of speed from these machines. Once again there was plenty of use of our facility by the teams and media. As the competitors cycled though the control point, there were many comments from spectators about the cramped conditions in the solar cars, and how the drivers would emerge from the cars saturated with sweat. We handed out plenty of water to the teams (especially the Koreans), and I have no doubt it will be well appreciated. With only 5 solar cars left to arrive, we moved to Ryan Park, on the north side of Katherine, for the arrival of the Green Fleet. We set up the cafe in a wonderfully cool spot in the shade of a tree. While business was initially slow things started to get excited when the cars started to arrive. We met a number of people who came out to the park expecting to see the solar cars only to be disappointed to find that they were not meeting at Ryan park and in fact had already left Katherine and were on the road again. We met up with Monty and Trevor from NT Computer Supplies, in Katherine, for dinner, and ?the best steak you?ll ever have?. I have to say that that claim was lived up to. The steaks at the Golf Club were wonderful.

Leeming Sungroper: Sunday 25th: flat

Saturday addendum: MIT qualified. Faster than us. Considerably faster than us. They run the qualifying lap without their array on, and they fair hoon around the track. All cheer as their driver passes through the straight; as he completes his timing lap, he punches his fist to the sky. I stop by to see if they need any help; they don't, but we do loan them a 240V soldering iron and 240V extension cable. Their array has a bad case of road rash, but they are testing it, and some of the strings are still working.

- - -

The alarm is set for 5am, because the WSC requires us to be on the starting grid by 6am. We load cars in the dark. We trailer the kilometre or so from the Alatai to our marshalling point. We're late, but we're still nearer to the front of the crowd of arriving teams than we are to the back. MIT give us our soldering iron back. They've put tape over dead cells on their array, with little messages like "You should see the other guy's car!", and "Our driver is from Harvard."

The start line is at a different spot this year: it's on the paved area in front of parliament. We queue, and get directed to a spot in the parliament house car park. In the shade. The sun is barely over the horizon, but it's easy to see that our bay will be shaded by a largish nearby building (the Supreme Court?) for quite some time. We are somewhat annoyed by this; it is our present belief that our batteries are not quite full, and we were hoping to top off in the hour or so that we are required to sit doing nothing.

A few interested people wander by and ask questions. We wonder how many more people the race start would attract if it were an hour or two later in the day.

Channel 10 stop by and interview me briefly.

Our observer, Sidd, arrives. We stand around. We field a few questions.

Our support vehicles arrive. Our lead and follow vehicles are required for the start, but they are marshalled in a separate carpark, to join us a few metres after we start the race. They bring me some Chux; I clean the array.

The race starts. Cars are brought up to the square in front of parliament at one minute intervals. Chris Selwood, the event coordinator, says a few words about each one, the flag drops, and the car is away. We are 19th off the grid.

We were required to turn up to the grid with our driver and one other person (which is me). There doesn't seem to be any guidance as to when that additional person is supposed to separate from his car -- other cars seem to be coming to the line alone, their additional person having somehow spirited themselves away to a support vehicle, but I stick to my car like glue, walking within a pace of it. We are marshalled into the centre of the square, Chris says some words about us, the flag drops, and we're away. The path from here to the road is guarded by barricades, and there is a substantial crowd behind them. We proceed at a walking pace to the road, whereupon I run for the follow vehicle. We merge up, and proceed down Mitchell Street, and turn right onto to Daly Street, which is the name for this stretch of the Stuart Highway. This is a bit odd: we've missed out the first block or two of the Stuart Highway, meaning that the race will run almost, but not quite, its full length.

The first two or three traffic lights are held at flashing amber for us, with police directing us through. After that, though, we're in general traffic, and we have to stop at lights. Several times we get separated across intersections, and the lead vehicle has to wait for the light to change before we can catch up.

Telemetry range is shocking; we are only getting telemetry when we are nosed right up behind the solar car at a red light.

The first checkpoint is Katherine, 318km away. The listed close time for the checkpoint is 4pm, so we must be there by then. That's an average speed of 43km/h, and we figure that with traffic lights and driver changes and so on, we'll need to cruise at something like 48km/h. With our new battery pack, larger than the one in Sungroper 1, we figure we can make it.

We cruise out of town. We are passed by several Greenfleet vehicles. (Greenfleet is a demonstration class, held over nearly the same route as the solar race, and at the same time.) Some distance along, we pass the French team, Jules Verne.

We continue to cruise. We're pulling an unsustainably large current, but a bit of maths suggests that the battery pack, rated at about 40 Amp-hours, should last.

We driver-change; we driver-change. With the third driver in the vehicle, we lose radio communication with the driver. It turns out to be a flat battery. This also turns out to be the reason that the telemetry range is so bad: the telemetry receiver's 9V battery is at about 6V.

The car is going slower and slower. We find a place to pull over, give the driver a new radio, and continue driving.

We ask the driver to turn up his speed a little; he replies that the throttle is already at 100%. We've just recently replaced the battery on the telemetry receiver, and we spot the out of place number: our 120V battery pack is sitting at about 90V.

We get the convoy off the road. We leap out and pop the array off, and look at the batteries. It is as the telemetry suggests: they are empty. We do some tests to find out if perhaps one third of our battery pack is simply not connected; this is not the case. We've taken about 18Ah out of our 40Ah pack, and it's simply empty.

We don't know why. We thought it was nearly fully charged before the start of the race. We know we had it fully charged a few days ago, because we got a substantial thermal rise out of it: we kept charging it off the sun after it was full, and it got to about 60 degrees Celcius. But these cells shouldn't get damaged until at least 80 degrees.

We continue solaring at a much lower pace, putting as much current out into the motor as we are getting in off the sun, slowing down for uphills and clouds, speeding up for downhills or sunny skies. We get passed again by Jules Verne.

There is much discussion via radio. Eventually, we decide to continue solaring to Hayes Creek Roadhouse, just a couple of kilometres short of the much-feared Hayes Creek Hill, and trailer from there to the Katherine check point, just before its closing time. We do so. Team Heliodet solar past the roadhouse five minutes after we leave.

We reach the Katherine checkpoint a few minutes after four. The checkpoint's closing time has been extended by an hour, because of the cloudy skies; so we discover that we actually made it with 50 minutes to spare.

We are permitted to keep solaring until 5:20pm today, because we did not cross the start line until 8:20am. But after being held at the checkpoint for the mandatory half hour "media stop" (presumably some of the front-runners see media at these stops, but we never do), we'd only get another 40 minutes of solaring, in marginal light, so we elect to simply leave the array on the side of the trailer, facing the cloudy sunset.

At dusk, we adjourn to the budget cabin accommodation.

Now that we have trailered, we are out of the lead pack of the race, who will complete the whole course on solar, and into the trailer pack. Our objective now is to complete as many kilometres as possible under solar power.

-- Doug Burbidge

Leeming Sungroper: Sept 25 - Update

Andrew passed on the news for the first day.

Leeming Sungroper traveled at about 40-45km/h until they had used up half their batteries, at which point they discovered that in fact they had used up all their batteries :-( Unknown as to why at this point - possibly they were not fully charged before the race, possibly there is some problem with them.

After that they traveled on solar power alone (at about 20km/h) until late in the day when they had to pack up the car and trailer forward in time for the 4pm close of the Katherine control stop (which they arrived slightly late for, but the closure time had been extended to 5pm due to clouds).

All up they traveled 170km under their own power, and are now camped in or around Katherine.

Andrew leaves now, and I've told Doug to phone me with news whenever he has coverage so I can pass it along to the list.

Congratulations to Leeming Senior High School and all the team of Leeming Sungroper on their first 170km traveled under race conditions - a very good effort!

Enjoy, Peter.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Soleon: September 24th 2005 - Late Night Darwin, Northern Territory

Shame on me for thinking that today might be uneventful! Team Soleon qualified today in the wake of a frightening and unforgettable incident. Moments before Soleon was to take their turn on the race track, MIT?s Tesseract met with disaster. Tesseract?s front, left, carbon fiber tire rim broke on a tight turn causing the driver to loose control and roll over. After a few tense moments it was announced that the driver was okay, walking away with only a sprained wrist and some very rattled nerves. At the team meeting later in the day, it was mentioned that when the solar car was righted, the driver?s head actually bumped the ground as the canopy had split on impact. Thankfully, MIT is one of a few teams participating in the WSC that prioritizes safety over aerodynamics, using both a roll bar and a helmet. No one doubts that the inclusion of these two safety measures assured that the driver was able to walk away today. Tesseract, on the other hand, did not fare as well as its driver. The array and top shell suffered substantial damage, but like any dedicated team, MIT is now burning the midnight oil in hopes of being on the starting line tomorrow morning.

Only a short time after this very unsettling scene, and fighting some damped spirits, Colby, our project manager, pulled Soleon out on the track to perform the two required laps, a test lap and the timed ?hot? lap. Although the test lap went smoothly, during the second qualifying lap Soleon suffered three separate power losses, slowing Soleon?s performance. Despite the complications, Colby managed to complete the lap in a respectable time of 2 minutes and 32 seconds, earning us an ideal starting position of 11th place, right in the middle of the pack.

The events at qualifying were followed by more bad news as word spread that The University of New South Wales suffered a roll over accident with their trailer resulting in irreparable damage to the team?s solar car. Understandably, this was a disheartening blow to the Aussie team and such news always sends a certain amount of sadness through a very sympathetic race community. Fortunately though, no injuries have been reported and I?d like to believe that each of these incidents can be learned from by all involved in this sport.

Although the anticipated high energy of the qualifying events was not to be, we moved forward to prepare for the race ahead. The rest of our day involved preparing the team and our vehicles for the week long journey. The WSC differs from the NASC in that there are no staged stops and therefore no potential for down time. Until we reach Adelaide, we will race from 8 am to 5 pm, with the sun setting by about 7pm. As one can imagine, the Outback offers little in terms of modern conveniences, with only a few populated areas where one can access a grocery store. To help prepare the team, Garett and I filled the afternoon by filling a shopping cart, four or five times over, in two different grocery stores, to acquire enough supplies to last our team through the busy week ahead. I must say, as hard as it was to train myself to drive a car the left side of the road, it was even more difficult to remember to keep my shopping cart on the left side of the aisle. I went head to head with a few unsuspecting Aussie shoppers!

Although we are sure to face a few more challenges on the road ahead we are looking forward to competing alongside such a diverse field of international racers. One piece of good news to end on, a company called Inmarsat has generously supplied our team with satellite equipment, known as R-BGAN, that will enable us to access the internet during the race. This means I will not have to scour the Outback for net access and can continue to relay all our adventures to you, our fabulous supporters!

Aussie phrase of the day "Whatcha chasin'?" Translation: "What are you looking for?"

Laurie Heilman Bell MASc. Communications Manager/Nutritional Advisor University of Calgary Team Soleon

Aurora: 24 September, Hidden Valley

To determine grid position, each team does a flying lap of the Hidden Valley race track. We put Derrick in the car, hoping for a time around 2 minutes for the 2.9km circuit.

We are fourth on the grid. The top times were: TIGA (1:59), Formosun (2:01), Michigan (2:02) and Aurora (2:03).

We passed the swerve and braking tests easily.

We have been joined by a camera crew from the Discovery Channel, who will be accompanying us to Adelaide.

RBGAN Internet Cafe: Sat 24 Sept. Time Trials

Today was just a great day. We arrived early and set up the cafe, and were instantly approached by teams wanting internet access. It was so interesting being in the pits with all the teams, having an opportunity to see the solar cars up close. Although it is a race, and there can only be one winner, the sheer beauty in the engineering of some of these machines has to be seen to be appreciated, and all the cars are a credit to their respective teams. Watching the time trials was the first time I had seen the cars running, some of them with almost alien sounds, and it was a great thrill. There was, however, work to be done, and one task was to hand out RBGANs to four teams who would be using these as their own internet access. These teams will be doing their own Blogs on this site, and should provide some interesting reading. As I watched the trials, I saw the MIT entry roll while doing approximately 70 Kmh. It was great to hear the driver is OK, and to see that the team was able to fix the car and qualify for the event. Time trials finished about 2PM, and the teams immediately packed up in preparation for the next day, which left us to do the same. We arrived back at the hotel just after the first bounce of the AFL Grand Final. We were two of the very few Swans supporters in a decidedly pro-Eagles bar, but the atmosphere was fantastic, and we watched possibly one of the best Grand Finals of the last 20 years.

Leeming Sungroper: Saturday 24th: roll

Some of you have heard already: MIT's car flipped onto its back during their qualifying lap. The driver is largely unhurt.

Our morning starts relatively early: our array does not at present fit on the car, because of the extra bump caused by the new controller, which, while lighter, is a little longer than the old. We cut a chunk of divinycell foam out of the underside of the array, and the car fits together.

Word circulates around the track that UNSW have crashed their car in road-testing. Their double-wishbone front suspension is very low-profile, which means it contains very large forces: several tons. One wishbone has separated away from the carbon fibre it was bonded to, causing the wheel to switch from vertical to horizontal. They have damaged the front of the car. This is a double blow for UNSW: last race they rolled their trailer with solar car inside, on the way to Darwin, totalling the car.

We're required to be on-track by 8am, so that Peter, the WSC safety officer, can brief each team. He starts at pit 1 and works up. He reaches us and gives us the briefing.

Cars are going out in pairs, separated by half a lap, so they don't get in each other's way. I suggest to Peter that he pair us up with the most famous team in the race: HelioDet. HelioDet, led by Detlef, the famous Suitcase Guy (so called because he brings his car to the race in a couple of large suitcases), is about the same speed as us, so that way neither of us will slow anybody else down.

We await our turn on the track. The whole team is here at the track, and many of them are watching as various cars rush past. Some of them are watching as MIT come out of the hairpin on the far side of the track, go into the next corner, and flip. A gasp rises from the crowd. I run up onto the pit roof for a better look. Later, I am kicking myself for not simply leaping the safety barrier onto the track, running across the track, leaping the next barrier, running across the drag strip, leaping, running, leaping, running, out to the far side of the track to check on the driver. A big-budget car like MIT's will be running lithium cells, and if a short develops, say between the batteries and the conductive carbon-fibre hull of the car, the batteries could have a "thermal event", which is a technical euphemism for "get really hot, catch fire, spit burning metal".

But this does not happen. The car rests on its roll bar. A camera crew who were in the middle of the track run over and check on the driver. Then, I assume, they capture some footage which will be on the TV news tonight.

Some petrol cars leap onto the track and run around to the MIT car. They get the driver out, and bring him back to the pits. He's OK. A short time later, he is taken to the hospital for a check-over.

There is some mucking around with the car going on out there; from back at the pits we can't tell what. But we find out soon enough: they've changed the failed wheel, and remarkably, the car is driven back to the pits under its own power, without its array. All applaud as it rolls past, a damaged wheel resting on the front of the car.

A number of other cars do their qualifying laps, and then MIT's vehicle trailer goes out onto the track. They retrieve their array.

Peter gives us the word: we are clear to move into the pit lane. Matt, a student driver, is in the car; the back of the driver canopy has a P plate affixed to it. Right behind us is HelioDet. We wait at the head of the pit lane for the previous cars to finish and turn onto the drag strip, and then we are cleared to go. HelioDet will be held until we're halfway around.

We complete our warm-up lap. The purpose of this lap is simply to get you to the start line: the entrance from the pit lane is just past the start line, so you have to do nine tenths of a lap to get there. A side effect is that you get to hit the start line running.

Matt runs past our pit; our team are lined up on the pit side of the barrier, cheering. I cross the track to the drag strip. Matt completes his lap. He goes to the turn at the end of the straight, and turns in to the drag strip. John talks him through a lane change test, which involves driving the car through a curve made of witch's hats (translation for Americans: traffic cones) at 35 km/h. We actually do it at 33, but the road testing people don't seem too concerned. Then he continues a little further down to the brake test. This also is supposed to be done at 35; this time we hit it at about 37 according to the radar gun. Matt starts to press the brakes when directed, but he has to press them further than usual, because Steve has backed off the front brake pads. So he effectively starts braking well after the line. But it's OK, because he finishes braking well before the end line.

We've passed. And I haven't hyperventilated once.

Nothing can now stop us from reaching the starting line.

- - -

In the afternoon, we attend the briefing, we pack the car, we return to Alatai, and we do logistic preparation. Tomorrow, we race.

And tomorrow, this blog may stop, or at least thin out. I've tried but failed to get internet connectivity from my phone; and phone coverage is sparse over much of the course anyway. So getting this blog out to the world may be trickier, or not possible. We will see.

-- Doug Burbidge

Friday, September 23, 2005

RBGAN Internet Cafe: Fri 23 Sept. Day 3

As was the case yesterday, the teams were busy with scrutineering, so although we had a number of people through the cafe, it was still fairly quiet. Again, we were able to assist teams with downloading information, and especially weather forecasts for the next few days. After scrutineering had finished, we moved from the showgrounds to Hidden Valley racetrack, in preparation for the activities there. Friday night was the WSC reception at Parliament house. This was a great opportunity to meet some of the members from the various teams from all over the world. This was followed by dinner with some of the various staff and volunteers who are so invaluable to running an event such as this. Once again, Many thanks to Leanne, Chris and Debbie for their hospitality.

Leeming Sungroper: Friday 23rd: Tritium

Tritium have loaned us a controller, but have suggested that we should use it only as a spare. In the morning, we phone Dave at Tritium to run past him the concept of us swapping in the Tritium controller now. He gives us a few tips. There are two sets of wires going to the motor: power and data. The data cable has an 8-pin circular DIN-esque connector, to fit the Lillington controller. The Tritium has an 8-pin DIN to go to the motor's data cables, but Dave lets me know tha the pin-outs will be different.

I hatch a plan to build a short adapter cable. That'll involve me getting one connector for the Tritium end (and Tritium have thoughtfully included two in the case), and one for the Lillington end. First, out to the pits to check exactly what the Lillington end is: looks like a DIN-8. Then out to Jaycar to buy the bits, then back to Alatai to receive the email from Dave containing the pinout of the Lillington connector, then back to the track to make up the adaptor cable.

And the connector doesn't fit. The Tritium end is fine (of course), but the Lillington end doesn't fit.

Back to Jaycar, this time with the controller. There are two other teams there when I arrive. The connector looks like a "MIC" connector, which I'm not really familiar with, but's it's fairly academic anyway, as Jaycar top out at 5-pin MIC connectors.

Back to the track, and back to the drawing board. Intead, I build a double-ended cable: the Tritium plug hanging off the side next to the Lilligton plug. Ick. We jack the back wheel off the ground and plug the plug back into the Lillington controller to make sure it still works after I've bowdlerised it; it does.

Unplug the Lillington controller from the car, which involves unbolting the 120V input cables from the controller box. AUAGH!

Of course, the controller has dirty great capacitors in it, and although I've disconnected the motor from power, it's still got some stored up in it; more than enough to bite me. I would probably have figured this out a bit quicker, but when I work hard for many days running, I get a bit fatigued, and I can feel my intelligence and presence of mind slowly dribbling out my ears.

I remove the remaining power from the controller with a wrench and a big fat spark. Probably not good for the controller, but right now I want a bit of revenge on it.

Now, set up the Tritium controller. Plug it into power. See the display light up and the LEDs flash. Plug it into the data coming back from the motor and run it magic PhasorSense configuration, which probably should be renamed "You Just Sit Back And Relax While I Configure Absolutely Everything; All You Have To Do Is Spin The Drive Wheel A Bit". It flashes its lights to indicate that it now understands our motor. Plug the power lines in, including the external Hall sensor module. Hall sensors are nifty transistor-like devices that sense a magnetic field. We've got three Hall sensors buried in the motor (that's what the data coming back from the motor's data connector is: signals from the Hall sensors), and Tritium give us another two to stick outside, around two of the power wires. Now, turn the speed knob on the Tritium's driver control.

It works. It does everything it's supposed to do. It goes forwards, it goes backwards, it does regenerative braking. The creaking groaning noise our motor used to make at low revs is gone. It goes faster. You have better control over the speed. And it stops really nicely on the regen brake.

Right now, the Tritium controller is just sitting loose on top of the Lillington. We remove the Lillington, and unscrew everything from the Tritium in preparation for installing it in its final location.

Of course, before I touch the screws for the 120V, I check it with a multimeter to see if it's safe to touch. Well, of course it is. The Right Thing for the controller to do when powered down is to remove any excess voltage stored in its capacitors, down to say 3V or so. So that's what the Tritium does.

Its final location is upside-down underneath a pair of metal rails -- its a little longer than the Lillington, so it won't fit in the old spot. We reconnect various bits to it, put John in the driver's seat, and push him out into the pit lane.

We've made two serious mistakes, but we havenb't realised it yet.

John turns the speed knob.

Nothing happens.

Dave let us know that since this is a prototype controller, it's possible for the controller code to fail to boot from a cold start, and that the cure is to flick the reset switch. It sort of reminds me of Reason, in Snow Crash.

So we pop the array off and flick the reset switch.

Still nothing.

We roll back into the pit. Take the top off, look at it properly. Find one of our mistakes: we've failed to reconnect the external Hall sensors. The supplement to the manaul adresses this. Quite clearly. And repeatedly. Never power up the controller without the external Hall sensors attached, it says. Damage to the controller will result, it says. Assign someone to always check that they are connected before powering up, it says.

Well, we didn't. We put ourselves in a pressure situation, then it all seemed like it was going well, and we reconnected everything except this one piece.

We put the controller through its paces.


Three different teams, on hearing that we've had a Tritium controller coming, have offered help with installing it. Many teams are at scrutineering today, but one of them is on site: Aurora. I walk down to their pit, and we ask for help. Tom comes and helps. He plugs a laptop into the controller, and shows us how the PC interface works. I've seen it in the documentation but haven't tried to play with it. It's got parameters out the wazoo.

Using the laptop to talk to the Tritium proves that the Tritium's brain is happy and undamaged. But it doesn't directly solve our problem.

We phone Dave at Tritium. We 'fess up to having powered the controller up without the Hall sensors.

The conversation goes on. Initially Dave thinks that we must indeed have blown up the controller, but as we talk more, he becomes less and less convinced -- the nature of the fault we are seeing does not match his expectation of the sort of thing we should be seeing.

We finish the conversation without a conclusion. We continue troubleshooting by ourselves back in the pit. Perhaps there's a problem with my ugly double-ended cable. We check it out, and indeed a wire has come loose: when we flipped the controller upside-down and fixed it into its final location, we must have tugged a little on this cable, and one of my solder joints must have been weak.

While we're doig this, Dave calls back. He's thinking that it's something to do with the Hall sensors in the motor, which are connected to the very connector we're messing with right now. Oh yes, I say. Dave explains how to check the Hall sensors in the motor from the connector end, by hand-turning the motor slowly, and using a multimeter.

We do so, and find that one Hall line is behaving differently from the others -- it's shorted to ground. But only when it's plugged into the controller.

What's changed?

Well, now the controller is upside-down.


We flip it the right way up. The Hall line isn't shorted any more. We power it up. It works.

So we made two mistakes, and there was another built in to the controller: we failed to connect the external Hall sensors, which would normally destroy the controller, but we had a fault in our data connector, and the controller had another fault on that same connector. And those faults prevented the controller from spinning the wheel, which prevented it from destroying itself. So we dodged a bullet.

We track test, but it's too windy to get any idea of the efficiency of the new controller.

In the evening, we go to Parliament House. Speech by Claire Martin, the Chief Minister; and Chris Selwood, the WSC event director. We track down Tom and thank him. He tells us that in his opinion, Tritium controllers are the best in the world, and I'm far from disagreeing with him. My opinion of the controller has only gone up. We haven't had a chance to compare its efficiency to the Lilligton controller, and now we won't until we get back to Perth; but on any given issue it does the Right Thing -- you can figure out how its going to behave by figuring out what you want it to do, and pretty much always that's what it does. The only exception is the external Hall sensors -- they're an accident waiting to happen. Nevertheless, it's an accident we've dodged, and we're very happy.

Tomorrow: track testing. We have to run a qualifying lap to get our spot on the starting grid, and have to pass brake and steering tests administered by NT Roads.

-- Doug Burbidge

Thursday, September 22, 2005

RBGAN Internet Cafe: Thurs 22 Sept. Day 1

Opened the Cafe at 8 AM, and had a few interested people pass by. Most enquiries were about email, but we were able to help one team out by downloading a required solar panel specification sheet. There was a lot of interest by journalists, and team media/PR people about using our facility to send stories and pictures back home. There were many comments about how this had been achieved in the last few years over 2.4K Iridium connections, or similar. Today was fairly quiet, as most teams had scrutineering, and thus had their thoughts occupied elsewhere. The next couple of days, and especially when we start down the highway, should prove more hectic!

Incidentally, At the cafe we have approx 25 cases of water, and although we?ve been going through it ourselves, there?s plenty there. Feel free to drop by, use our cafe, have a chat about the equipment we?re using, and take some free water.

Leeming Sungroper: Thursday 22nd: scrutineering

Early rise. We're due at the showgrounds at 8am. We have already had one trying-to-remember-everything session yesterday, when we packed the trailer at Hidden Valley; we have another one this morning. Nonetheless, we nearly manage to leave without the laptop which contains vital data. I run back for it.

It turns out that I'm the only one who knows the way to the showgrounds, where scrutineering is.

We pull in to the carpark, full of vehicles covered in WSC Official stickers, but empty of solar car teams.

John goes inside. Our registration is right now at 8am, but our scrutineering doesn't start 'til 8:30. We use the opportunity to roll out the car onto the dusty grass and apply a few final touches that will help get us through scrutineering, such as a dozen or so "Danger High Voltage" stickers at strategic points over the car.

We bang on the roll-a-door, but they won't let us in yet: we're a few minutes early. We stand around for a while. Then the door goes up, and we go in.

While we are getting the car scrutineered, so too our drivers are getting scrutineered. They present their drivers' licenses, to prove they are actually legally allowed to drive, and they get weighed. All drivers are ballasted to 80kg, so the more you weigh, the less ballast you have to carry. There's a spirit of fairness about the weigh-in: nobody (so far as I know) sticks lead weights in their shoes or anything, but drinking water is considered entirely fair, so people drink water before weigh-in. A lot of water. Really a lot. And then weigh in. And then run for the bathroom.

First station is a doddle for us: stickering. They stick a couple of big "World Solar Challenge 2005!" stickers on the sides of our solar car. It's not a doddle for everyone, incidentally: lots of cars have neglected the rule which says "thou shalt leave room for our damn big stickers", and have a cross-section like a needle, so the stickering team have a challenge to cut down the stickers and squeeze them on the cars. Our car is the first one the stickering guy has ever done, so he takes two tries to get the first sticker right. Good car to learn on.

Next station is an odd one: weighing. The race rules don't lay down any requirements about the weight of the car. The scales are not very accurate because you can't load all the wheels of the car onto the scales at once. And for us, the scales are not wide enough to fit both our front wheels at once. So we weigh the car one wheel at a time.

313kg. That's not including driver and ballast, but including 70kg of battery.

Next: driver eye-line and egress. The race rules require that the driver's eyeballs be at least 700mm above the road, in order to ensure that the driver has a good view. The scrutineer puts black glasses (really black: spraypainted) with a white line painted at eye height on our driver. Then he turns on a laser level on a tripod, and shines it into the car's cockpit. Well, he points it in the direction of the car's cockpit anyway; it actually hits the side of the car, well below the cockpit. So we pass that one.

Egress is a little trickier: each of our drivers have to prove that they can get out of the vehicle by themselves within 15 seconds. (That's right: not 30 seconds, 15.) "Proof" in this case consists of standing up in the driver's seat, as actually leaping out over the solar array could be an expensive excercise in many cars. Three drivers pass first try. One of our drivers just barely goes overtime, but takes a second try and passes fine.

I duck out to get something from the cars, and get accosted by safety scrutineers who are looking over our support vehicles. Who's your team's Safety Officer? Um, well, actually he's on a plane on his way here, so 'til he gets here, it's me, I guess. OK, so first on the checklist: big sign for the follow vehicle saying "solar car ahead": have you got one? Um, no -- it's at the printers; supposed to be ready today. OK, signs for each vehicle showing that they are part of the Leeming team? No, sorry, at the printers. How about signs announcing your UHF channel? Uh. At the printers.

But we do have the safety vests, the traffic cones, the red flag to wave at traffic when we're emergency stopped, the fire extinguisher, the first aid kit. So that's all good. We can come back and re-present when we get the signs all up, and we'll only have to bring the support vehicles for that, not the solar car.

Next is "on-road", which is administered by NT Roads. They look over the car. We demonstrate the indicators, brake lights and horn, and they walk around carefully looking at things like the master brake cylinder. We've done this same thing in Perth just a week or two before, so it's not too hard. John Beattie has a nice chat to them about the WA licencing people. We pass, and move on.

Electrical. We've already got the array off the car, so Prof John can take a good look. Who's your team's electrical officer? Um, it's me, I guess. We discuss the way our circuit breakers work, and exactly what connects to what, and pros and cons of various means of electrically isolating power point trackers. When we conclude, the only point we're bad on is that we haven't got a sign on the side showing people where our emergency cut-off is accessible from outside the vehicle. It's supposed to be a blue triangle with a lightning bolt on it. Well, I say, tell me how big the triangle is supposed to be, and I'll draw it with this blue pen and ruler I've got in my pocket. Um, says Prof John, and both our eyes alight on a stack of blue triangular stickers on his table. Oh, well, I'll have one of those, then. Done.

Battery weigh-in. This is the last stop, and by far the longest. Our batteries get weighed, a laborious enough process in itself, and then they get wrapped in string. And wrapped, and wrapped, and wrapped. They drill holes in the base boards our batteries sit in, all the better to thread the string around and about, to generally make it hard for us to unthread the string and cheat, by, e.g., cutting out dud cells and replacing them with good ones, or substituting the whole battery pack for a more charged one, etc. One of the team comments that it's all a bit silly really, and that it's really more symbolic in nature, and the battery scrutineering team more or less agree.

We hand our folder chock full of solar minutiae back to the scrutineers, put the car back in the trailer, and go for lunch.

Afternoon back at the track. Couple of laps, tweak something, couple of laps, most of the afternoon. John's gotten word that the new motor controller from Tritium in Queensland has arrived, so he goes down to pick it up from the post office, and drops it down to us at the track.

We need something like a 10% to 20% improvement to have a chance of completing the race on solar power, over the whole car. Aerodynamics (which we can't improve at all, now), rolling resistance, motor efficiency, the whole lot. But I've been suspecting for a while that our present controller is pretty stupid, and that stupidity may be degrading its efficiency. So I've been wanting to get a look at this new controller, and if it looks nice, try it out. That's risky at this late stage, so it depends how good it is.

How good is it?

It arrives well packed in carboard, and when we unwrap that, it's in a flight case: you know, the shiny aluminium case with foam inside cut to the exact shape of the thing it's carrying. Inside the case, the controller is Gold. Literally -- that's the name of the controller: a Tritium Gold, and that's it's colour too -- anodized aluminium. It has a note accompanying it explaining that the manual is for the last released version, version 4, whereas this is a prototype version 5. So it's the newest and shiniest Tritium controller in the race. And possibly the shiniest controller in the race, full stop.

I read the manual: basically the way you set it up is that you show it your motor, and it figures it all out. It does forward and reverse, it does regenerative braking, automatically or on demand, it lets you tweak every parameter you can conceive of and some you can't, it'll run your whole car if you ask it. In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!

And tomorrow, we get to try it out.

-- Doug Burbidge

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Leeming Sungroper: Wednesday 21st: more of the same

No, really. Today is more of the same as we had the previous days. We're still scattered into about three different groups: track work, food shopping, and everything else. "Everything else" includes buying batteries, buying and fitting antennas, getting signage done, setting up computers, and making sure we have all our ducks in a row for scrutineering.

Scrutineering. The next few days will _not_ be more of the same. Thursday and Friday are scrutineering at the Darwin showgrounds. Paul, the chief scrutineer, stops by our pit and goes over the details with us. We've got to show that we meet all of the race's technical requirements (that our car is within the size limits, that our battery is within the weight limits, etc.) and also that we meet all the safety requirements: our drivers must have 10 hours of practice each, our drivers must be able to exit the vehicle unaided in under 30 seconds, our car must have adequate visibility, we must have an emergency cut-off accessible from outside the car, we must have safety vests, traffic cones, a red flag, etc.

There's a random draw later today to determine what car gets what timeslot for scrutineering. We might have only today to prepare, or we might have today, tomorrow, and half of the next day.

More driver training out on the track, more debugging of electronics.

The boards out of Sungroper 1 arrive at lunchtime. We swap bits to narrow down our problems. The problem with the Extra Sensor board is that the chip is dead. This despite us trying two different chips, one of which is known to work.

The problem with the the go-button-and-speed-knob panel is not the dash/connector board. This is something of a confidence booster for me: neither of our hard-to-find bugs is being caused by boards which I printed. OK, some of our previous problems have been my boards, but not _these_ problems.

Tony, a race assistant, comes by our pit and gives us the draw. We are first. There are 22 teams listed, 14 on Thursday and 8 on Friday, and we are stone-cold first.

There's an up-side to that, of course: if we have any problems, we get the maximum possible time to prepare for "re-presentation", at 16:00 on Thursday, and 13:00 onwards on Friday. That means that we'll effectively have three chances to get everything right.

More driver training. Most teams are on-site now, and the track is getting busy. At one point, I count 7 cars out on the track, including us. We have the honour of being passed by some of the fastest cars in the race, including Nuna. (Theoretically, there's no passing allowed out there, for safety reasons. But everybody is cooperative, and when we pull way over to the left on the straights most other teams get the idea and pass us.)

At the end of the day, we put the car back in its trailer (a trickier procedure than it was with Sungroper 1, because with Leeming Sungroper's stub axles, we cannot use a steering yoke), along with all the safety gear, and trailer it back to the Alatai. Since we have to be at the showgrounds at 8am, we don't want to have to stop by Hidden Valley and pick up the car on the way.

And then we go play laser tag. Two friends of mine, Craig and Emma, own and operate the Zone 3 here in Darwin. I and five or so other people arrive late, because we were still at the track, so I get to play in the second and third game. I shoot not quite four times as many people as shoot me in the second, but I don't manage as well in the third, because it's a game called "Vampire", which essentially means "everyone versus Doug". My "team" wins anyway.

Dinner is a barbie, with crisp and crunchy potato salad. Interesting.

-- Doug Burbidge

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Leeming Sungroper: Tuesday 20th: track testing, track training.

Morning. Breakfast. Weetbix. Check email. Onno, from the WSC website, lets me know that he's putting my email missives up on the web:


At the appointed 8am gathering time, we have far less students than we did at the same time yesterday -- John knew that they would be full of energy and stay up late the first night or two, and now they have evidently burned through that initial energy burst. We get a couple of radio calls from other rooms, letting us know they'll be a couple of minutes late.

We gather, and the plan is announced. Some people go shopping for food, some people go shopping for electronics, some people go to the track. I, as usual, am with the track group.

I replace the non-conducting wire in the cable leading to our go-switch-and-speed-knob panel. This does not fix the problem. Dag-nabit.

Andrew turns up, and plays around with his voltage-and-alarms board. He wants to glue temperature sensors (the rather technically marvellous LM35's) to the batteries, but there's no suitable glue. So it goes on the shopping list.

More teams continue to arrive at Hidden Valley through the day, including Kormilda, Southern Taiwan and Annersley.

We hook the array up to the car, to push some photons into the battery. Telemetry shows that we're pushing in 0 Amps, which doesn't sound like a good number. We figure that there must be a problem with the current shunts. (In this modern world, it's much easier to measure voltage than current. So when we want to measure a current, we put a very very small resistance in the wire, and measure the voltage drop across it. We call it a "shunt" for historical reasons totally unrelated to the way they work today.) We pull out the centre battery string and poke around at the shunts, and eventually become convinced of their goodness.

We spread our search, and eventually figure out that the trackers (the four magic boxes that optimally accept power from the solar array, and optimally push that power out into our batteries), are seeing the array just fine, and are seeing the batteries just fine, but are failing to push any power from A to B. Between us, we're sure that the trackers worked back in Perth, and between us we're sure that none of us have rearranged any of their configuration switches. It's lunch time, so rather than getting the rest of the team to deliver lunch to us, we elect to return to Alatai and talk about it.

Lunch is toasted cheese sandwiches, also featuring sliced tomato and sliced meat of your choice. A few students burn their first efforts, by turning the frying pan up too hot.

We make some phone calls. Several back to key people in Perth, to check data sheets for us, to fish replacement parts out of Sungroper 1, to generally hedge our bets. And one to Stuart at AERL, the manufacturer, to ask about the problem. We describe the current state of the switches on the trackers. They've each got an OFF switch, which is in the ON position. Oh yes, says Stuart, if the OFF switch is in the ON position, then they're off, and they won't pump any power.

Back to Hidden Valley. As we drive in at about 70km/h, parallel to part of the race track, we get passed by a solar car. In the pit, we flip the OFF switches to the OFF position, and power up again. The car comes up smoothly, and the trackers pump power in just the way that they are supposed to. Applause.

We still have no idea how the OFF switches got to the ON position. An Aurora team member wanders by and suggests it was the switch fairies. Apparently Aurora have had some experiences with switch fairies in the past.

Steve and crew work on aligning the steering. Andrew and I work on bringing the Extra Sensor board up. It resolutely refuses to cooperate. Even though everything on it looks perfect, its little brain gives no sign of life. Luckily, after our earlier experience with the trackers, we've asked our friends in Perth to ship some key Sungroper 1 boards to us, including the original Extra Sensor board. They will arrive tomorrow. We'll drop the known working board in and either trouble-shoot some more, or just write off the new board, and replace it after the race.

This leads Andrew and I to the realisation that there will be a fair amount of work back in Perth getting the original Sungroper back to near-original condition. And I figure it'll be a little while after the race before we have the enthusiasm for that.

We roll the car out, and do some testing. We haven't driven yet on the newly fixed brakes, nor have we seriously driven on the present motor.

I drive first, on the basis that I'm the most technically experienced driver. I do a few low-speed bunny-hops in the pit lane, as a means of testing the brakes. Then it's out on the track for a lap, hotly pursued by a follow car. There are one or two other cars on the track, so we have a student up on on the viewing platform calling some perspective to us, so as we don't get in anyone's way. I take the car for a bit of a flog. The steering is a bit different from Sungroper 1, as it's 3 turns lock-to-lock, as opposed to Sungroper 1's 0.9 turns, but otherwise it's a very similar experience. Leeming Sungroper presently has an identical motor and controller to Sungroper 1, is of very similar geometry, and identical electronics, except for the bits we haven't finished yet.

I return to the pit and pronounce it good. Steve Morgan goes out for a couple of laps, partly to check the car for mechanical soundness, and partly because since he's put so much time into this car, he's damn well going to have a bit of a play.

Then, with sufficient happiness as to the state of the car, we put students in. We have three of our four drivers here, and they each get some laps. We get some idea of the car's present efficiency, too: at 9 Amps (a touch over the amount we can sustainably spend during the race) it goes at about 37 km/h. This is not enough to finish the race without trailering. So we need some efficiency improvements in the days ahead.

Nevertheless, the day is a success: we've got some mechanical and electrical stuff sorted, and we've got some driver practice in. Another team has arrived at the hotel: Apollo Solar, a Japanese team. We return to the Alatai. Dinner is curry (your choice of chicken or beef), and rice, with a piquant smoky flavour caused by the fact that the bottom couple of centimetres worth of the rice is burned black. Radio chatter is quieter this evening.

More tomorrow.

-- Doug Burbidge