IT vendor partnership helps drive Aussie solar car team

Lenovo will partner with the University of Western Sydney solar car team for the 2015 race

The University of Western Sydney's solar car entry in the 2013 race. Photo credit: UWS.

The University of Western Sydney's solar car entry in the 2013 race. Photo credit: UWS.

When you’re racing a solar powered experiment on wheels across the Australian outback, the last thing you need is IT equipment failure.

Thankfully this wasn't the case for the University of Western Sydney’s (UWS) solar car team in 2013’s 3000 kilometre race from Darwin to Adelaide. The race took place in October.

UWS solar car team leader Jay Manley said that a partnership with IT vendor Lenovo gave the team access to half a dozen ruggedised laptops that survived heat, dust and water.

The partnership with the PC vendor will continue for 2015's race, Manley said.

During the 2013 race an UWS team member accidently spilt a litre of water all over one of the laptops while it was running. After it was dried out, the laptop came back to life.

“The team member wasn’t happy about sitting in wet trousers in the support vehicle but the computer kept working,” said Manley.

“I had more problems with humans overheating than computers because the air conditioning in our support vehicles was pretty average.”

The laptops helped collect data about the solar car’s performance such as solar cells, batteries, speed and motors.

“Without the computer processing power in the support vehicles, we wouldn’t have been able to view what our [solar car’s] power consumption was. All the information was translated from an Ethernet cable and transmitted via Wi-Fi on to a custom interface we built on the laptop. From there, we could work out whether to increase or decrease power for efficiency,” he said.

Read more: Tablets not PCs will first introduce users to Windows 8: Lenovo

However, the UWS team did encounter some issues with the 2013 solar car.

“You’re literally driving an experiment so there were some issues with the mechanical system. Some parts were under-specification by mistake. Another issue was that the solar car’s battery packs weren’t calibrated prior to the race so the team sometimes didn’t know how much battery life they had left,” Manley said.

Despite all these challenges, the UWS car placed 11 out of 22 vehicles competing in the Challenger class.

The solar car team’s partnership with Lenovo came about through a phone call Manley made.

The team needed a tech sponsor to provide new IT equipment, so he rang around a few companies asking for support.

“We cold called Lenovo and they were interested from the get go. Most other companies simply weren’t interested,” he said.

Read more: Competition to transform the city of Parramatta now open

In addition to the six laptops, Lenovo provided two ThinkStation D20 PCs which were used to design the solar car and run engineering simulations of the car racing.

Details of the partnership with the vendor for the 2015 race are still being worked out, said Manley.

“We will be building a new vehicle hull but will reuse some components [from the old car] such as motors as they are expensive to buy.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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Tags thinkpadsolar carUniversity of Western Sydney (UWS)solar powered carssolar car challenge

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