Alexander (Xander) is the Lead Mechatronics (Electrical) Engineer on the ASCEND Solar Car Project. Xander is a 2021 Deakin Engineering graduate that undertook a student project working on the solar car. Xander brings the so-called “spark” to the solar car, by undertaking all wiring requirements to enable it to soak up the sun’s energy, store it in the batteries and transform that energy into movement.
Hear what Xander has to say about his ASCEND Journey:
What is your role now? What have you literally been doing recently?
I am the lead Mechatronics Engineer on the solar car, overseeing every part of the electrical system from the drivetrain, the charging, the data management, and every little switch, light, and sensor inside the car. Recently I’ve been focused on updating our high voltage system to include critical safety systems to disconnect the battery when it detects a problem.
What do you enjoy most about working with the current students?
The current students are some of the most eager people I have ever met and bring great energy to the whole team. Even though most of the team are still studying, the quality of engineering and the work they produce is incredible. The combination of their willingness to help and being able to rely on them to do great engineering has made working with all of them some of the most fun I have had.
Were you a part of the project team during lockdown/s and how did you navigate that?
I joined the team at the beginning of March 2020, about a week before everything shut down. I continued with the team through lockdown, but my project had to pivot to doing something more research-based rather than physical. I was lucky enough that my project turned out very well and I was invited back for an internship over the summer of 2020/21 to act on the research and ideas I had. Working during lockdown was incredibly difficult, mainly due to the lack of parts and delays in shipping. For my project, I ordered some parts in mid-2020 that took 5 months to arrive because of all the shipping and construction delays!
What is exciting about this project? What have you learned?
The thing that excites me most is using so many cool technologies to construct a real, working car. Some days coming into the workshop and seeing the car it hits me and I think “I built that”, which gives me such a sense of pride knowing I helped bring the project to life. I have learned so much in my 2 and a half years on this project. From the names and functions of certain tools to so many different techniques that real-world engineers and mechanics do. The biggest thing I have learned is how to design for construction and maintenance. Working on my designs has shown me that things that work great on paper need to also be accessible on the build so you can fix or diagnose problems without frustrating yourself.
Any funny anecdotes or stories about the build so far?
A ton! One of my favourite stories was when Angus spent two days designing a mount for the brake calipers. He had two pieces of aluminum joined to support the caliper by some bolts. He got it manufactured and was in the middle of installing it before he realised that he forgot to design a way to put the bolts through the plate! Another was when I spent a day drilling and filling out a hole in a plastic box to fit a connector, only for Angus to come by and drill out a second one in 30 seconds using a tool I didn’t even know we had!
What is your ultimate goal in being involved?
My ultimate goal is to prove to myself that I can build and succeed in an engineering setting. Through this project, I have learned so much and I hope to successfully drive a vehicle of my team’s design. I have already had the opportunity during our testing and there is no better feeling. I have a strong passion for automotive vehicles and emerging technologies. Being able to show off Deakin’s ability to manufacture a car using these new methods with me at the forefront is a rewarding experience that I will never forget.
What are your Engineering goals beyond working on the Solar Car project?
I really enjoy having a new problem every week, and I would love to continue working in an industry that operates like this. Ideally, I would love to work in the motorsport industry and help with the design and development of a competitive vehicle. I love the pressure and constraints of competition and believe I would enjoy being in that environment.