If you stumble into the solar car shop at midnight, the chances are you’ll find me sitting in front of the computer, probably tired and a little bit frustrated. As Aerodynamics Team Lead, I’m responsible for designing the aerobody – the external shell – of the next solar car. Not only do I have to minimize aerodynamic drag and ensure that it is easy to manufacture, I have to make sure that array and mechanical teams are satisfied with my designs. Because the requests of these teams are typically detrimental to aerodynamic performance, there are a lot of difficult compromises to be made.
Despite the importance of aerodynamics in design, we’ve always had a very minimal aerodynamics team compared to most of the other top teams. Most teams have a couple of people solely responsible for CAD design, and a few for running simulations, but at Blue Sky, all that responsibility falls onto my shoulders. And unlike many other teams, we’re all full time undergraduate students, which means I have little room for things like sleep. Throughout the summer, my friends travel Europe and go skydiving while I sit in the solar car shop meshing and running CFD. It’s the nature of aerodynamics design that all the other subsystems are dependent on having an existing design, so there’s a lot of delegation and discussion between myself, mechanical and array teams.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been on the team for two years already. I’ve gone from a frosh that hardly knew anything to a team lead that knows enough to design and build a car. However, I don’t think the technical knowledge is the biggest thing I’ve gained here at Blue Sky. Sure, being able to design a car in CAD and run simulations is pretty cool, and being able to work with others in a huge multidisciplinary project is not something that is taught in schools, but the biggest thing I’ve gained is the understanding that, as engineers, how much room for improvement there is in the things we use day-to-day, and how much difference each of us can make. If you asked me two years ago, if a group of undergraduate students can make a solar powered car to race across the continent of Australia, I would’ve said you’re crazy. It is crazy, but for a different reason. It’s crazy because we can make cars that are 10x more fuel efficient, that run on the power of a toaster. But what if the same is true for everything else we use day-to-day? Efficiency is the reason solar cars are capable of sustaining highway speeds, and if we, as engineers, applied the same philosophy to everything else, perhaps we can have a greener future.