Day 1 Race Update

Excited. Anxious. Hopeful. These words can all accurately describe the mood within our team today since we got up at 04:00 and headed for the start line at State Square in Darwin at 05:30. Despite many of us running on less than 5 hours of sleep due to spending the entire night packing and running final checks, our adrenaline levels were higher than ever.

Pushing Viridian into State Square.

After unloading Viridian at the start line, we began waxing it to improve the surface quality and redoing system checks to give us peace of mind. More teams and spectators started pulling in, creating a lively atmosphere. The top teams began crossing the start line at 8:30 with 1-minute gaps in between, which meant that as the 13th Challenger team, we departed Darwin at around 08:45 with Nick in the driver’s seat.

Nick looking excited to cross the start line.
Viridian at the start line.

As Viridian drove into intersections, our lead and chase vehicles quickly assumed caravan formation in preparation for exiting the city.
For Nick, driving Viridian in the city was quite rough. There was a lot of traffic, with solar cars and their caravans overtaking each other and articulating commands over radios. Once Viridian left the city confines, things were no longer as hectic. Miles of open roads extended beyond us, surrounded by trees and red dirt. However, there was more noise within the vehicle because country roads were less smooth. Meanwhile, teams overtook each other less frequently, but road trains and other cars began to emerge, imparting strong crosswinds on the much-lighter solar cars.

Viridian on the way to control stop 1, Katherine.
Viridian lined up with its fellow solar cars in Katherine. Credits: SA-UAVs

At 12:49, we arrived at the first control stop, Katherine, about 266 km from the start line, putting us in 9th place. A control stop is a designated area where teams change drivers and rest over a half-hour period, and there are nine such areas along the race route. The clock starts ticking from the moment the driver presses a button at the marshal desk, which means that drivers should egress as quickly as possible to sprint to the button. Similarly, the next driver should enter as quickly as possible to merge back onto the highway before other teams. At control stops, only the drivers can touch the solar car. Our second driver, Grace, was initially worried about ingress, but she pulled the procedure off very nicely, giving us a lead over Jönköping University (JU), Western Sydney, and other teams who pulled in right after us. Back on the Stuart Highway, however, the ranking fluctuated a bit, as teams that had just experienced issues before surpassed us, and we surpassed teams ahead of us that pulled over.

Viridian on its way to the second control stop, Daly Waters.
A drone photo of the team camping near the Daly Waters control stop. Credits: SA-UAVs

As I write, we are camping beside control stop #2, Daly Waters, which is 588 km from the start line. Based on our check-in time at Daly Waters, we finished day 1 at 9th out of 28 teams in the Challenger class. We were able to maintain our position because fortunately, we never had to pull over to fix critical issues today. It gets complicated, however, when there are 5 other challengers, 3 cruisers, and 1 adventure class teams sharing our campsite. As all of us will be leaving Daly Waters together, we would have to make many overtakes to gain a decent position. Stay tuned for how that’ll work!

Be back soon,
Cindy Chen

Deep discussions with the dynamic decision-making duo

Hubaab “Hubble” Hussain
Kaveh Dadkhah

Welcome to Day 3 of “12 Days of Blue Sky”!

The stars of today’s blog post are Hubaab “Hubble” Hussain, our Managing Director, and Kaveh Dadkhah, our Chief Engineer and Safety Officer. We’ve asked them a few questions about their roles so you can step into their shoes!

1) When and why did you join this team?

Kaveh: I joined Blue Sky in September 2016, or literally my first month at the University of Toronto (U of T). I gained some design and CAD experience in high school and wanted to do something similar in university. Meanwhile, Blue Sky was looking for people who knew CAD, so after completing a few challenges to the satisfaction of the then-chief engineer, Sean, I became a part of the mechanical team. After being on the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (BWSC) race crew, I decided to stay on the team for the Gen X cycle to improve and innovate the mechanical system.

Hubble: I also joined Blue Sky in my first month at U of T. When I started university, I didn’t want to restrict my learning and personal development to school work – I wanted to try my hand at real-world engineering. Last cycle, I was a mechanical team member, where my tasks included design, manufacturing, and assembly, and travelled with the team to Australia for BWSC 2017. I found a passion for the solar car project and took the initiative to assume the position of Managing Director for Gen X. To me, I could learn more through two years in this role than anywhere else.

2) Can you give us a breakdown of your day-to-day responsibilities?

H: Project management is highly administrative in nature. I am responsible for developing short and long-term timelines that are feasible given our resources. With these in mind, I keep the team on schedule and identify gaps in our work to provide the team with the resources to succeed. Whenever bottlenecks occur, I try to figure out solutions to achieve our goals. For that, I need to know a bit of everything in Viridian’s system.

K: During the cycle, I oversee the technical design of the car, including the mechanical, structural, and electrical subsystems, as well as the fabrication process. I delegate projects to team members and set up a timeline for their completion. Ultimately, I help integrate the different subsystems to build a safely functioning vehicle, making sure that in the process, everyone delivers work that meets our standards. During the race, I oversee testing and keep track of areas that need improvement. As Safety Officer, I also enforce sound practices and lead daily system checks to ensure Viridian can be safely driven.

3) What challenges have you faced in your role?

K: I took over as Chief Engineer midway through this cycle, having previously been the Mech Lead. During my brief transition period, I had to quickly learn about other subsystems of which I had no prior knowledge, notably the electrical side, to the extent where I could offer adequate technical support. Aside from that, another challenge I faced was managing people and uniting them under my vision. I wanted to inspire passion in team members so they could produce quality work and adhere to deadlines.

H: I’ve come to realize that understanding people and what drive them is no easy task. Sometimes, I have to adapt myself so that my colleagues can thrive in their roles and the Blue Sky environment. As well, our entire team is comprised of full-time undergraduate students, which is different from many other university solar car teams. This complicates the scheduling process as we must all balance school and solar car work. The question that’s always on my mind is: how can we be competitive given our limited resources and personnel?

4) On a more positive note, what is your favourite part of your role?

H: As the Managing Director, I love the fact that I need a strong sense of responsibility, as I direct the operations of the team. For a large-scale project like ours, this responsibility encompasses the handling of uncertainties. Every day, I’m confronted with foreign situations and new challenges, which inspires me to solve problems creatively. I cherish these experiences because I don’t think I can gain these insights in any other setting.

K: I really value the friends I’ve made through getting to know my team, since everyone contributes to our lively, familial atmosphere in their own way. In addition to working with great people, it’s always awesome to watch the car drive, as it shows that our efforts have come to fruition. It’s hard to believe that we, as students, are building a product on par with those of large auto companies, but as a matter of fact we are.

5) What is your vision for the Gen X cycle and the race?

K: My vision was to build a car that functioned reliably during the race; that is, a car that can drive 3000km through the outback with nothing going catastrophically wrong. I wanted us to always try our best considering our situation and leverage Viridian so that it reaches its full potential. This cycle, we spent a lot of time innovating the aerodynamic and structural aspects of our car, so I’m excited to see it perform on the world stage and hopefully reap positive results.

H: My goal was to ensure this cycle ended such that everyone can appreciate how far we’ve come in pushing towards our goals and combatting difficult times. This applies not only to Viridian, but the team overall. I noticed a stagnation in our team morale and performance in previous years and thus made it a priority for us to move forward this cycle. Specifically, I want Viridian to beat our personal best of 8th place at the 2013 BWSC with B-7.

6) You’re probably bored by now, so let’s spice things up. What is one item you can’t live without?

H: My watch. I’m obsessed with checking the time. I don’t always carry my phone but I wear a watch so I can look down at my wrist for the time whenever I want.

K: Twitter. I mostly use it to follow sports – I’m always curious to see what teams are up to behind the scenes and track fans’ reactions to sporting events.

Thanks for sharing some leadership wisdom, Hubble and Kaveh! Keep your eyes open for the theme of Day 4 (to be revealed then…)

Cindy Chen

A Day in the Lives of the Blue Sky Race Crew

Greetings from Palmerston Senior College in Darwin, Australia! Over the past month, Blue Sky has found a second home in the Land Down Under. Have you ever wondered what a typical day in the life of a race crew member looks like? As part of the programme for Day 2 of our social media campaign, “12 Days of Blue Sky”, this post has you covered.

To begin, we wake up at around 6:00. Most students are averse to getting out of bed this early, but we do this to train for the race, during which time we get up before the sun rises so we can adequately charge our array and perform system checks. We then head to the kitchen to enjoy a balanced breakfast (courtesy of our operations crew), which usually consists of protein, toast, and cereal, to ensure our team has the energy to power through the day.

Hubble chairing the daily morning meeting.

At 7:30, we have our daily morning meeting, where we collectively update the team to-do list on the whiteboard. This is also a time for team members to raise any concerns, discuss any challenges they encountered the previous day, and exchange ideas for solutions. After this, we promptly begin work. For the mechanical team, tasks include repairing the charge stand and fixing or bleeding the brakes. Meanwhile, the electrical team may be soldering new printed circuit boards (PCBs) or fabricating wires that connect various enclosures, and the software and strategy teams testing code. The operations team may be retrofitting vehicles in our support fleet or acquiring equipment for our technical team. Floating across the shop are the chief engineer and project manager, who follow up with other members about their progress, as well as the media team, who takes footage and posts on our social media channels. Eventually, people get hungry, so it’s time for the operations team to start making lunch. Lunch is most often sandwiches with chopped vegetables or fruit. We try to keep lunch simple yet healthy to keep people going.

The mech team adjusting the charge stand.
The elec team deciding how boards should be soldered and wired.

After lunch, which ends at approximately 13:00, the routine becomes more varied – either we continue working in the shop, or we load Viridian into the trailer and go testing on open roads. The latter is favoured more now that only 10 days remain before the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge kicks off. In parallel, we subject our solar car drivers to mental and physical conditioning exercises, and the operations team gets groceries for the evening’s dinner as well as breakfast and lunch the next day. Since our arrival, the dinner menu has ranged from peri-peri chicken to cottage pie and everything in between. Sometimes, while dinner is cooking, the rest of the team plays sports or works out to stay fit and take a break from the grind. On special days, the team is rewarded with a trip to the beach or local night markets, where they can sample local delicacies, buy quintessentially Australian souvenirs, and most importantly, catch the beautiful sunset.

Khanin from the operations team showing off a full cart of groceries.
A few team members at the beach after a long grind.

By 22:00, much of the day’s work has been completed or started at the very least, so we shower, relax, and some go to bed. Others continue working if there are pressing deadlines. Nonetheless, 12+ hours of work a day is quite taxing, so inevitably, we all tuck in and sleep soundly, dreaming of sleek solar cars like Viridian.

That’s the end of this blog post! Stay tuned as we continue with an introduction to two of our most important members.

Until next time,
Cindy Chen

Blue Sky Solar Racing August Update

May testing

It’s been said that experience is the best teacher, and that the lessons worth learning are always unplanned. It was in this spirit that Blue Sky Solar Racing’s May testing trip took place this year. Withthe goal of being able to give new team members an opportunity to experience race conditions, 20 team members, both veterans and newcomers, spent May 27th to 30th at the Grand Bend Motorplex and Brantford Airport putting Polaris, the car raced in the 2017 World Solar Challenge through its paces.

Despite being race proven, getting the car ready for some road time involved more than just loading it up and heading out. In the preceding months, it had served as a testing and development ground for new fabrication techniques, mechanical assemblies and electrical circuits. As a result, getting it back in tip top shape proved to be the perfect way to train new team members. Everything from bleeding the brakes and checking the steering calibration, to charging up the batteries needed to be done. Finally, months of learning the fundamentals of how the car is built was put into practice and the new recruits rose to the occasion.

A question that’s been asked is why plan our own testing trip rather than running another race such as the American Solar Challenge (ASC). It comes down to a matter of return on investment. This team deemed it more valuable to focus on designing the best possible car for the World Solar Challenge (WSC) rather than investing time into modifying Polaris to conform to ASC regulations. As a result, the team has been able to effectively add an additional 6 months of design time to the next generation car while still building experience in race conditions ​ from​ testing trips like this one.

After 2 days of testing and driving at both Grand Bend Motorplex and Brantford Airport the team had a wealth of new data about the car’s driving characteristics. The new team members also experienced first hand the impact of not only design decisions but also logistical ones. With WSC lasting approximately 5 days and 3 weeks of testing in Australia preceding the race, being able to coordinate food, transport of supplies, support vehicles and safety procedures is critical. While things went quite well for the most part, a valuable lesson, provided by strong winds, taught the team how to rapidly relocate and appropriately secure tents and vehicles.

A sincere thank you to all our sponsors for making testing trips like this possible is in order. We would especially like to thank Brantford Airport and Grand Bend Motor Plex for providing the venues used for testing. As the next generation vehicle makes its way through the design pipeline we are more confident than ever that WSC 2019 will be our best race yet.

Electrical Test Bench

Being a team that designs, builds and races solar vehicles the ability to test and verify the performance and functionality of the electrical systems is key. The system has many components
including but not limited to firmware, software, hardware, printed circuit boards, sensors and wiring. To confirm that these systems behave identically to simulation requires continuous testing as both individual modules and a overall system. The need for modularization has motivated the creation of a new test bench.

The test bench is based on an off the shelf pegboard with the individual system components (printed circuit boards) arranged on plexiglass stands. This makes it easy to place and connect modules and also swap module versions. Furthermore, with the new power supplies and instrumentation generously provided by Rigol it is now possible to completely simulate the entire car’s electrical system on the test bench. As a result, continuous integration and testing of new submodules can now happen on an almost daily cycle. With a working system, a newer version module can be swapped in, tested, debugged and verified in in just a few hours. This in turn will result in a system that meets the team’s “triple R” race requirements: reliability, robustness and repairability.

The new electrical test bench wired up and running. Swapping in a new module is as easy as moving a few cables.

With the systems for the new car already starting to take shape, building the testbench has proved to be an excellent exercise for the new team members. It has given them a better understanding of how what they’re working on will contribute to the overall vehicle. This has also allowed the more experienced team members to focus on understanding and designing the new car to the 2019 World Solar Challenge requirements without needing to spend as much time bringing new recruits up to speed. After all, measuring voltages, soldering new components and trying new modules is learning that’s hard to glean in reports.

A sincere thank you is owed to our sponsor Rigol for the power supplies, electronic loads, and oscilloscopes that helped make the new test bench a reality.


Aerobody Design and Wind Tunnel Testing

With race regulations posing stricter constraints on both solar array and battery sizes every year,
making use of these limited power sources is what allows our team to be competitive. To that end, the aerodynamic characteristics of the car have the greatest impact on our efficiency. To design the best possible aero body, our team has been combining simulation with real world testing. While the actual design is still under wraps, we wanted to share the process that’s allowed us to iterate faster than ever before.

In previous design cycles, the team would typically simulate 2-3 different aero body designs per week, which meant that given the lead time needed for fabrication, only about 50 designs could be evaluated. This cycle has increased that pace by an order of magnitude, with around 20 simulations per week now being run. It’s been a better tool set both in terms of compute hardware and software that has made this possible.

Our compute rack

Polaris was designed on a pair of compute workstations from 2010 (8GB of RAM and 4 CPU cores each). This limited the size of the meshes (resolution of result) and meant that a full simulation would take upwards of 20 hours to run. With the support of the University of Toronto’s Engineering Society the team was able to purchase 4 new high-performance workstations. This upgrade at the start of this design cycle (64GB of RAM and 12 CPU cores each) provided a massive boost in performance. However, these did not come with Graphical Processing Units (GPUs) needed to render the 3D models. We were extremely fortunate and are grateful to Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) for sponsoring new Radeon Pro Workstation GPUs, these ensured that all our CAD and meshing software ran perfectly. AMD also provided additional workstations, including one of their new ThreadRipper platforms. We’ve been astounded by the performance these platforms have provided and their reliability (as of present they’ve been online without issue for over 6 months). The team also recently purchased a server which the IT division converted to a High-Performance Computing (HPC) Grid, that the aero team could submit larger simulation jobs to. With the ability to now queue up dozens of simulations, the new compute infrastructure is happily humming away, running different parametric studies to determine the sensitivity of vehicle performance to factors such as width, height and fillet gradient just to name a few.

Despite the enhanced iteration schedule, real world testing is still important. In July, the team conducted wind tunnel testing at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) in the lab of Prof. Philippe Lavoie. The team tested 3D printed models of Horizon and Polaris, our two most recent cars, to obtain a better understanding of their aerodynamic characteristics. With the help of MedPrint we were able to print quality models that met our specifications. While the 3D-printing was quick (a few days), the surface finish proved to be the most challenging aspect of fabricating the models. Many techniques were tried and after two weeks the team had finally found a way to achieve the desired finish. In the wind tunnel the team was able to verify their understanding of the vehicle’s dynamics and percolate new ideas for use in the design of the new car.

Once again, a sincere thank you to all our sponsors is in order as you have made it possible for us to iterate through various designs faster than ever before. A thank you to Delta Server Store, the University of Toronto’s Engineering Society, and Advanced Micro Devices for the new compute hardware. For the software tool chain, we would like to thank Dassault for providing CATIA, Aventec for providing training, ANSYS for providing our simulation tools and Applied CCM for providing our meshing tools and valuable support. We would also like to thank UTIAS for time in their wind tunnel. While the aero body for the new car is still under wraps we look forward to unveiling our best one yet in just a few months.

Please stay tuned!

All the best,

Grace Lloyd

Advancement Director – Blue Sky Solar Racing

2017 World Solar Challenge Wrap Up

After a summer filled with hard work, long nights, and testing trips, the whole team was excited to depart to Australia as the long-awaited Bridgestone World Solar Challenge was on the horizon. Our initial race crew arrived in the early days of September in Melbourne to receive Polaris after shipping, and then trailer up to Darwin before the rest of the team arrived. On September 12th, our full race crew landed in Australia, and we were ready to start preparations for testing. Not long after settling in at the Palmerston Senior College we were already hard at work to make sure Polaris was ready for its upcoming roadworthiness inspections. Thanks to the amazing facilities and hospitality we were shown at the school, we were able to adjust to our new schedules and surroundings, which included lots of hot days with temperatures that we were not quite used to in September.

Team mates at testing at Cox Peninsula.
Testing at Cox Peninsula.

After less than 2 weeks we passed our inspections without issue, and were ready to move our testing from airstrips and parking lots to Cox Peninsula. Here we were able to not only see how Polaris performed in the new conditions, but also how the team functioned in standard operations such as pullovers, overtakes, and roadside repairs. These days were very useful in simulating race conditions, and got us all into a race-ready mindset.

Dynamic Scrutineering at Hidden Valley.
Dynamic Scrutineering at Hidden Valley.
Our official licence plate.
Our official licence plate.

The race officially started on Sunday, October 8th, at 8:00AM. We were set to start in the 6th position, and we set out of Darwin under beautiful clear skies and strong sunlight. As expected, the road was very crowded on the first day, as all the teams were pushing to establish their position to start the race. We were fortunate enough to end the day at a public camp site, which helped ease the team into the harsh conditions of the Outback.

On Day 2, we started driving in close proximity with a few other teams and were vying to stay ahead of the pack. We managed to maintain a steady cruising speed for most of the day, and completed our first complete race day without any issues, even getting ahead of two teams thanks to our fast operations at control stops and campsites. As it was Thanksgiving Day, we had a small celebration at night with some local meat pies and music, which helped us all relax from the stresses of the race.

Happy team mates at the campsite.
Happy race crew at our campsite.

On Day 3 we set our sights on Alice Springs, however as soon as the sun started rising we faced heavy cloud cover that reduced the effectiveness of our morning charge. With a careful eye on the batteries, we began the drive at 8:00 AM, and hoped that the weather would improve. As the hours went by without much hope for good sunlight to recharge, we were forced to reduce our speed. Due to the weather conditions, many teams were forced to stop their race, so we had to be careful and optimize our strategy to balance our speed with our remaining battery charge.

After a rainy night, we were woken up early on Day 4 by severe winds and thunderstorms. While the storm was certainly unexpected in the Outback, fortunately we were well prepared, and managed to pack everything up quickly. After waiting in the cars for around an hour, the rain stopped and we prepared to start driving. With our weather reports showing cloud cover for the next few hundred kilometers, we continued the drive at around 50km/h as we passed through Alice Springs.

The team protecting the top areobody under the canopy a from the storm.
Sheltering the top aerobody from the Storm.

Thursday, Day 5, started out looking very similar to the previous days, with very minimal sunlight detectable during our morning charge. However, based on our weather information, we were confident that we would be able to reach clear skies by the early afternoon, and decided to increase speed to escape the cloud cover. By the end of the day we were all relieved to finally be able to witness the weather that we had expected from the Outback, with strong sunlight lasting all the way through the day. We ended the day in the 8th spot, and found a great campsite right next to a few solar panels.

As the sun rose on Day 6, the weather was looking favourable, however we were in extremely close competition with a few of the surrounding teams. We were finally able to push Polaris a little more, and reached our highest speed for the race at around 105km/h! As we neared the end of the day however, we were hit with some very strong winds, including headwinds over 20km/h. This forced us to slow down, as the motor was consuming a lot more power to keep Polaris cruising steadily. We fell back a few places, but were only around 150km away from the finish line.

On Saturday morning, we started our day knowing that it was the last one before the race was over. We were very eager to get on the road and finish the final leg into Adelaide. We hit traffic relatively soon as we neared the city, but were able to successfully complete the race in 11th place! After two years of hard work and determination, we had completed the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, traversing the worst storms the region had seen in over 20 years!

The Blue Sky Team at the finish line in Adelaide.
The Blue Sky Team at the finish line in Adelaide.
Finish line celebrations.
Finish line celebrations.

Now that the team is back in Canada, they are looking ahead to a full team transition. During the next few months the current team leads will help the new team adjust to their roles and make sure they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to design the next solar car, while the new leadership decides which direction they want to take the team. All of this will come together when we create our tenth-generation solar car which we will bring to Australia for the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge!

Looking back at the race and to the entire cycle, our team has been through laughter, tears, and countless all-nighters. With many new races to look forward to, several members have taken the initiative to get the ball rolling and gather together a whole new group of ambitious individuals for a new adventure. As for the alumni who are graduating or leaving the team, well… the team never leaves them. Together, we are and will always be the Blue Sky family!

Pre-Race Update

In August, our 9th generation solar car was finally unveiled. Polaris will be our team’s race vehicle, representing Canada in the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Polaris is the fastest, lightest, and most efficient solar car in the team’s history, and has shown promising performances in testing.

Unveiling Polaris
Unveiling Polaris

Polaris features an asymmetrical catamaran design, which was first used by the team in Horizon. While the overall shape of the car is similar, Polaris boasts some exciting new features, such as a fully thermoformed poly-carbonate canopy, a composite roll cage, and a new DC brushless motor. Polaris is also significantly smaller, as the regulations for the 2017 BWSC allow 4m2 of panels as opposed to 6m2.

After the unveiling celebration, the remaining weeks of the summer were spent extensively testing Polaris and training the drivers. The Brantford Airstrip has been an ideal location for our team, and has provided our members with the experience needed for the more rigorous training in Australia. The team has now travelled to Darwin, where we are currently conducting final preparations for the race. With scrutineering starting on October 2nd, the team must make sure that Polaris is in its full race-ready configuration for daily testing. We have been fortunate enough to be hosted by Palmerston Senior College leading up to the race, giving us an excellent work space and environment in this critical time in the cycle.

Workshop at Palmerston
Workshop at Palmerston

Since Monday the 25th, solar car teams have been permitted to drive on public roads on Cox Peninsula. This allows teams to practice their caravan manoeuvres prior to setting off on the Stuart Highway. We have me up with a number of other teams already, and are prepared for some fierce competition at this year’s race.

Starting on October 8th, we will be on the road to complete the over 3000km race route from Darwin to Adelaide. We will be posting updates daily as we travel through the Outback, so stay tuned on our Facebook page to keep up with our team!

Polaris before its first drive on Australian roads
Polaris before the first drive on Australian roads