UJ's electric car dazzles at global race
The University of Johannesburg (UJ) Voltronics team, with its prototype battery-electrical vehicle, finished in 15th place at the Shell Eco-Marathon recently held in London on a custom-built track.
Out of 30 'valid' teams, the South African team finished ahead of teams from France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Turkey and Spain. The UJ team was the only African one to race officially. The race driver was a female engineering student at UJ, Shalaka Thomas.
The team consisted of eight engineering students from UJ, accompanied by a team mentor and mechanical engineer. The eco-marathon took place between 30 June and 3 July.
Fifty teams registered in the category prototype with the energy source an electrical battery. Of those, 45 teams passed technical inspection and 30 teams registered valid racing results in London. Teams from Tunisia, Morocco and Nigeria also registered for the eco marathon. However, these teams did not post valid racing results or did not pass technical inspection by Shell.
The UJ vehicle, "Nightfury", achieved a best racing result of 309km/kWh. Prior to their departure, the UJ team was aiming to ratchet up the performance of their custom-built electrical vehicle to 500km/kWh at the event.
The student team tweaked the performance of the car for the London event by combining 3D printing and composite technology. They also developed a telemetry system to provide them with real-time data as the car travels around the race track. The telemetry system predicts the best possible racing line and improves the race strategy with each attempt.
A new steering mechanism as well as new vehicle chassis with improved strength and safety were designed, and reduced the weight of the car to 32kg. The team also implemented a propulsion system with improved freewheeling capability, and made use of composite technology such as fibre glass, carbon fibre and Kevlar.
With the Shell Eco-Marathon Europe, each team is allowed four attempts during the competition. Each attempt consists of eight laps of 2 215km which had to be completed in under 43 minutes with the best possible energy or fuel economy. The best attempt counted for the final result.
The team was pleased with the vehicle's results and team members believe the Shell Eco-Marathon Europe will help them prepare and improve their prototype battery electrical vehicle for the African Shell Eco-Marathon race in August.
"The race was intimidating because the other teams have been racing for longer. It was a lot of fun too, driving a tiny car going quite fast. The car is so tiny and you're strapped down. You're almost in a sleeping position driving it. That's not ideal for driving but it is the most energy-efficient," says driver Thomas.
About her previous racing experience, she adds: "I practised driving go-carts and played some PlayStation games. One had a simulation of the London racing track."
Team leader and project manager Pieter Erasmus says: "The Shell Eco-Marathon Europe gave the team world-class experience. We plan to improve on better visibility for the driver and driver comfort for the African Shell Eco-Marathon later this year."
Dr Yuko Roodt, senior lecturer at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Science, points out that a project like this provides students with the opportunity to learn and work on an intricate and complex project with many aspects from communication, administration, logistics, design, development, integration and testing.
"This is the culmination of all their studies. The marathon really tests their engineering skills and ability to innovate."
The UJ student team is made up of Pieter Erasmus, Eduard Basson, Reginald Masher, Nicholas Harvey, Shalaka Thomas, Paul Lee, Ryan Coetzee and Marissa Erasmus.