Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Racing Car Unlike any Other: The Schulich Delta


The University of Calgary's Schulich Delta race car is a strange sight to behold on a racetrack. Built to achieve speed with maximum efficiency, the solar-powered car looks like a computer mouse on bicycle wheels as it whirs around the racetrack. But the car's unconventional layout is a product of the unconventional race series it was designed to compete in.



The doors (which are removed in this picture) are attached to the body by velcro strips lining the door frames
The ultimate goal for this car is to have it compete in an endurance race in Australia. The car is completely self sufficient and uses solar power to generate electricity needed to turn its two in-wheel electric motors. Top speed is around 60 mph and with no air conditioning and windows that don't roll down, it will be a very hot place to be under the Australian sun.

The passenger seat is not in place in this photo but the Schulich Delta is a two-seater capable of carrying two people in quiet and efficient discomfort.
That being said, the Schulich Delta wasn't exactly designed for driver comfort. Inside the sparse cockpit, there is room for two people and very little else. Though not lavishly appointed, the interior does provide a decent amount of headroom and legroom is quite plentiful as well.


The driver's controls will, however, take some getting used to. There is only one pedal in the car and it operates the mechanical front brake. The front brakes are really only there to be used in extreme or panic situations as most of the time, the car uses regenerative braking on the rear wheels to slow the car while charging the batteries.


But the car's main source of energy is the array of solar panels on the hood, roof and rear "hatch" of the car. These cells are "baked" into the carbon fiber body to create a perfectly smooth and aerodynamic finish. These panels charge 135 pounds of Li-Ion batteries that keep the Delta moving under the hot outback sun.


Despite its odd shape and skinny tires, the Schulich Delta is a better handler than you might think. The car only weighs 700 pounds and is sprung very stiffly which helps reduce body lean. In fact, the Delta was able to handily outrun the Ford Taurus chase car during its practice laps on the tight Varsity Speed Park circuit.


Watching the Delta silently glide around the race track is a weird sight indeed. There's no tire squeal, no engine noise and very little in the experience that purveys the sensation of speed. You know it's going fast but there's no drama to it's operation. See, drama detracts from efficiency. But when your goal is to drive for miles and miles using the sun as your power source, you don't really want drama in the equation.


But the greatest achievement is how student driven this whole project really is. This is a long way from when your mom would "help" you make a science project. The hard working group of students in the above photo pulled many all-nighters to make this car a reality. The amount of engineering and craftsmanship that went into the build is impressive for a car that was designed in just eight months.


While solar power isn't currently feasible for a production car, the team behind the Schulich Delta are proving that it's getting closer to reality every day. 

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