Sunswift: Student-Designed Solar Cars from Down Under

Judy Warner
|  Created: March 19, 2018  |  Updated: December 11, 2020

student designed solar car

Judy Warner: Please share how your team was started, how many cars you have built to date, and give us an overview of Violet.

Kristian Bojidarov: Sunswift is a team of undergraduate students from the University of New South Wales who design, build and race the world’s most advanced solar-electric vehicles. With the knowledge gained since Sunswift’s founding in 1995, the team has recently completed the manufacture of our sixth vehicle, Violet.

Originally, the vehicles developed by Sunswift were designed for the highest levels of efficiency and performance. This was seen in the late 90s and up until 2013 when our vehicles could carry at most two passengers, had an extremely large array and competed in the Challenger Class at the World Solar Challenge. Since this time, Sunswift has developed its fifth and sixth vehicles, eVe and Violet.

The design of Violet has been tailored toward enhanced levels of comfort and aesthetics in addition to a greater focus on practicality in comparison to our previous vehicles. This was achieved through a greater emphasis on an aerodynamically streamlined design, front and rear boot space, a reverse camera, parking sensors, interactive display screen with GPS, air conditioning and our first ever four-seat vehicle. This places Violet on a similar scale to current road-legal vehicles and subsequently allows the team to prove to the public the commercial potential of solar-powered vehicles.

Warner: What is your current focus and goal for this year's World Solar Challenge Competition?

Bojidarov: Unfortunately, there isn’t a World Solar Challenge this year and the next one is in 2019. Nevertheless, Sunswift will be preparing as much as possible until then. Violet will be two years old at that time and the team will have a very good understanding of her technical capabilities and limits. Over the next two years, the Sunswift team will be modifying the vehicle where necessary in addition to continuous testing. Like all teams, we are aiming to place first in as many scrutineering categories of the race as possible whilst inspiring and promoting a more sustainable future.

Warner: How many team members does Sunswift currently have, and how many of those are on the electrical team?

Students with solar carUNSW Sunswift Solar Car Team with “Violet”

Bojidarov: Sunswift’s current team consists of 40 student members. Our electrical team consists of 10 students working on design, construction and testing of our solar car electrical system. Our electrical team doesn’t only consist of Electrical Engineers, but rather, a mix of Mechatronic, Software, Photovoltaic & Renewable Energy Engineers in addition to students undertaking a science degree. We find having a broad background of students on the electrical team helps the team to approach challenges from a different perspective.

Warner: What are the greatest challenges faced by the electrical team and how do they overcome these?

Bojidarov: One of our greatest challenges is our data communication system within our solar cars, which is a CAN (Controller Area Network) bus design. We use CAN bus to control everything from our drives, from on-board tablets to car peripheries (indicators, headlights, etc.). Our CAN buses utilise LPC Microcontrollers as our CAN controller, a USB UART IC as the serial interface and CAN transceiver to transmit and receive between the CAN bus and controller.

Our fifth-generation car, eVe, utilises a centralised CAN bus which controls the entire car’s electrical systems from a central board. This poses problems in having the car’s reliability dependant on this central board. To overcome this challenge, in our most recent sixth-generation car Violet, we have decentralised all the CAN bases, and separated our drive onto a separate network. This provides fail-safes to keep most of the network operational in the case of a failure.

Warner: How do you think being part of the Sunswift team helps prepare engineers for the workplace?

Bojidarov: The synergistic environment of Sunswift, where different teams must work together to achieve a number of short-term and long-term goals, is of great assistance to all our team members. Transition from university to a work environment is a lot smoother as many global work practices are applied when working at Sunswift. Furthermore, team members learn about the work done in other sub-teams and are often invited to contribute. This provides Sunswift members with a much broader knowledge base and helps students to view ideas, designs and concepts from a different perspective. Engineers on our team are much more competitive in applying business and operational practices and vice-versa while business team members learn a lot more about engineering/design and can therefore see beyond the numbers and statistics when valuing projects.

solar car
Violet at Bridgestone World Solar Car Challenge

In addition to this, the passion and knowledge that students develop during their time at Sunswift is reflected in the workplace and helps many graduates stand out. Students are able to think differently and propose innovative solutions that are critical in many companies and businesses, especially in such a competitive and fast-paced world that we live in today.

Warner: When is this upcoming competition and how can our readers track your team and the competition virtually and online?

Bojidarov: Sunswift is planning to compete again in 2019. This hasn’t been confirmed and Sunswift is unable to disclose any specifics. However, to stay up to date on all Sunswift competitions, follow us on Facebook (@UNSW Solar Racing Team), Twitter (@sunswift) and Instagram (@unswsunswift). Competitions will also generally have a website that can be followed and this link will be shared on our social media accounts when the competition begins. We look forward to an exciting two years ahead.

Warner: Kristian, it has been an utter delight to learn about the outstanding work Sunswift has accomplished. Please give our best from the entire Altium team to Sunswift. We are honored to sponsor you and will look forward to your progress.

Bojidarov: It has been my pleasure, Judy and thank you very much for the continued support from Altium!

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About Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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