Welcome to the world of ASCEND, where solar-powered dreams meet reality! We are far more than just an entry for the 2023 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in the Cruiser division. We represent Deakin University’s ambitious attempt to create a vehicle that is not just eco-friendly, but practical and stylish. The first Victorian entry in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in a decade with input from over 1000 Deakin students, ASCEND has become an epitome of innovation, sustainability, and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Our mission was clear yet ambitious: to design a car that was not only competitive but also sustainable in both design and construction. Our team has taken this brief very seriously. The result is a car that is not only aerodynamically efficient but is comfortable and appropriate for both city streets and Australia’s rugged central terrain.

Over the past few months, the ASCEND Solar Car Project has taken a remarkable stride toward community engagement. This is not just a project limited to the workshops of Deakin University. It’s community focused. Exhibited at Melbourne Design Week under the banner “ASCEND: Engineering a Sustainable Future,” this endeavour brought the ASCEND Solar Car Project into the public eye, enabling the community to engage in dialogue about renewable energy solutions and shape the world we want to live in.

Additionally, we’ve also partnered with local schools, such as The Grange P-12 College, to give the next generation of engineers a glimpse into the future of sustainable tech. We didn’t just show them how cool engineering is; we also geeked out over their ‘F1 in Schools’ STEM Challenge projects. 

The team consists of twenty members representing Deakin University in various disciplines, including mechanical, mechatronics, electrical, and civil engineering. In the past year, several new members have joined the team, unified by a common passion for sustainable technology and innovation. Staff members also contribute, providing a mix of academic insight and practical experience. 

At the helm is Matt Jennings, our Team Manager, who keeps us focused and motivated. His leadership is a blend of inspiration and practicality, the perfect mix to navigate the challenges we face. But every great leader needs a strong team.

Take Angus, for instance. With a background in mechanical engineering, he is responsible for crafting the car’s suspension, chassis, and aerodynamics, Angus is the cornerstone of the mechanical team.

Then we have Xander, our Lead Mechatronics Engineer, and another shining Deakin graduate. He’s the one who ensures that our car not only basks in the sun but also harnesses its energy efficiently. From managing the drivetrain to updating safety systems, Xander is the electrical guru who keeps ASCEND running smoothly.

We also have team members with varied interests that add a unique flavour to our project. For example, Tahj, an avid Formula 1 fan, brings a perspective on speed and efficiency, while Bohan, a motorbike enthusiast, adds a twist of adventure to our mindset. Justin our our resident CAD guru has been invaluable to the team. His work is now done since he has developed perfect CAD of the roof and individual body panels which are all now 3D printed and assembled. Not to forget Janidu, who has also offered invaluable tech solutions. 

As the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge looms closer, our team has been laser-focused on refining the major components of the car. This includes the roll cage, drivetrain, vehicle controls, body panels, and cooling system. Each element has undergone meticulous engineering design reviews aimed at maximizing efficiency and minimizing weight. 

Bohan, an essential member of the design team, has spent considerable hours redesigning the vehicle’s exterior. He has transformed the side profile of the car into 3D-printable panels, innovated a new composite rear bumper, and meticulously crafted the car’s boot. Thanks to him, our vehicle’s side profile isn’t just aerodynamic; it’s also 3D-printable! He’s even given us a snazzy composite rear bumper and a boot that could make a kangaroo jealous. 

Switching gears to Lachlan, during our test run at Anglesea Automotive Research Center (AARC), his telemetry system worked like a charm. Think of telemetry as our car’s heartbeat monitor, telling us how it’s doing in real time. It’s crucial for making quick decisions during the race. Lachlan’s telemetry setup perfectly dovetailed with Xander’s focus on the vehicle’s control systems and data management. Xander ensured the received telemetry was accurate and used this data to verify system efficiencies. In addition to managing data, Xander has also been responsible for integrating a secondary battery pack into the car’s current infrastructure. 

Tehau has specialised in the vehicle’s peripheral systems, managing the wiring for sensors, lights, and the head unit. As the Battery Safety Officer, He’s the guy managing some of the wires and connections to keep the car (and us!) safe and sound. 

By dividing the monumental task into manageable chunks, the team has systematically addressed each challenge, creating a solar car that not only embodies innovative engineering but also promises strong performance in the upcoming World Solar Challenge. 

Balancing the demands of academic responsibilities with the race preparations is a significant challenge for the team, especially during Trimester 2 periods. Recognising the importance of both the race and their academic life, our team members have proactively coordinated with Deakin University staff to reschedule exams, ensuring that academic commitments don’t conflict with crucial race preparations. 

But communication within the team goes beyond logistical planning. Regular meetings cover everything from race strategies to what we’ll consume on the road. These aren’t just business meetings; they’re also opportunities for team bonding. After each session, we share a meal cooked right in our workshop. These “camp meals” help foster unity and are a key part of our team culture. 

This balanced approach, combining academic flexibility with team-building activities, exemplifies our whole preparation for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge

The logistics of the trip have also been meticulously planned, thanks in large part to Rupert. Drawing from his experience of living in a van for six months, he’s been instrumental in organizing the logistics for our camping stops. From making comprehensive lists of essential supplies to evaluating water stops along the way, Rupert ensures we’re not just prepared but also comfortable during our journey. 

Ensuring that our solar car reaches the starting line of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is no small feat. Nigel sheds light on the journey ahead. Nigel’s journey with the ASCEND Solar Car team began in 2020 when he had a fabrication workshop at ManuFutures, Deakin’s Innovation Hub. He initially fabricated a few components for the project. In 2022, he received a call to continue his work and assist the team in completing the solar car. Nigel’s role within the team is dynamic, ranging from car fabrication and painting to logistics and testing. He also manages media production, documenting and recording the project’s progress. 

Nigel’s interactions with the team are daily, and he’s been impressed by the progression he’s witnessed among the students. He highlights the importance of efficiency and a lack of weight in solar car racing and is eager to see the students meet competitors from other teams. He encourages the team to soak up the experience and enjoy the opportunities this program offers. 

Nigel emphasizes that just getting to the starting line is a challenge. Our workshop in Geelong’s suburb of Waurn Ponds lies nearly 4,000km away from the BSWS Challenge start line, traversing some of Australia’s most expansive and desolate terrain. Nigel had to make modifications to his enclosed car transporter to accommodate our solar car, which is much wider and longer than the race cars that usually reside in it. 

The journey covers almost 4,000km, taking the Stuart Highway up to Darwin, effectively running the Challenge route in reverse. Nigel plans to document the trip with photos and videos, capturing the stunning Australian countryside and wildlife along the way. While Nigel is hoping for a smooth trip, he acknowledges that road trips can sometimes throw unexpected surprises. However, his experience and enthusiasm for road travel make him well-prepared for any situation. 

As Nigel embarks on this logistical journey, he encourages the team to rest and recuperate in preparation for their busy month ahead when they fly up to Darwin. And he wouldn’t mind if they took some time to clean up the workshop! 

Everyone is looking forward to the race, not just as a competition but as an experience they will share and remember for years to come. 

Stay tuned, the next ASCEND Journey update will be live from Darwin in mid-October, as Team ASCEND prepare for the 2023 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge …