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 tomorrow with an introduction to two of our most important members.

Be back soon,
Cindy Chen

Unveiling of Viridian

In the lobby of the Myhal Center the team set up photos and artifacts from the cycle.
With over 150 excited attendees filling the sunlit Myhal Center for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the afternoon of June 24th, 2019 heralded the unveiling of Blue Sky Solar Racing’s latest creation – Viridian.  A culmination of nearly two years of the team’s hard work designing, testing, and fabricating, the event focused on celebrating the team’s rich history while also showcasing their new car for the first time.  As the lightest and most aerodynamic vehicle the team has ever produced, Viridian incorporates the best of the team’s past while also paving the way for the future.
Attending the unveiling were distinguished University Faculty, interested members of the public and the team’s greatest supporters – their sponsors. Naturally, friends and family of team members wondering where their loved ones spend all their free time also came to see the product of all those hours. Numerous team alumni had the opportunity to reminisce, flipping through the freshly minted history book and admiring 3D printed solar cars from the past 6 cycles.  Even the team’s original founders, made time to see how the team has matured and grown.
During the presentation, the newly appointed Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Christopher Yip, spoke about how the team represents the university on the world stage. “This is a really amazing opportunity for students” he said before mentioning how the team fits the core mandate of the university by providing experiential learning and international opportunities
Dean Yip speaking at the unveiling.
 Prof. Amy Bilton, a notable team alumna and safety board advisor, shared her thoughts at the event as well. She said, “one thing that makes this project so special is that for 20 years, students have been the main leads driving this project”. She commended the team on the amount of effort it takes to build a solar car while still being a full-time student and talked about how Blue Sky is a great career stepping stone by providing students opportunities to develop critical skills they can use in the workplace.     
Named for the beautiful colour, Viridian represents a connection to our history as Blue Sky Solar Racing combined with the green future we are hoping to attain. Viridian has a brand-new shape not seen before from the team. It is a single fairing car with a centered driver, allowing the aerobody to take on a sleek, bullet-like shape, optimized to reduce aerodynamic drag and maximize solar collection. The design features a monocoque chassis and a lightweight suspension system which helps it in being over 50 kg lighter than its predecessor.
The event was a resounding success with members from the UofT community and beyond coming together to celebrate the unveiling of the new solar car. The team now looks ahead to testing the car and doing their final preparations leading up to the race in Australia.
The team stands proudly behind Viridian.

Blue Sky End of Year Report 2018

2018 was a productive year for Blue Sky. Since January of last year, we have brought on and trained new core members, learned from our previous design, started and finished prototyping, and as of now are in the midst of fabrication.

Self-reflection, learning, and growing from where we used to be is at the core of our design philosophy and so now that we are done with another year we have made a document in self-reflection of what we’ve been able to do. Click here to see our end of year report

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!

Horizon places 12th overall at WSC2015

After battling sandstorms, bushfires and strong headwinds, Horizon successfully completed the 3,000km journey across the Australian outback! The official time of 47hrs 39mins and 39secs places us 12th overall.

Thank you to all our sponsors, supporters and all those who helped us along the way! This would not have been possible without you.

Official results: http://www.worldsolarchallenge.org/dashboard/timing?day=
Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blueskysolar/sets