BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 16 November, 2001, 14:12 GMT
Mad Dog prepares to sun itself
Mad Dog, South Bank Uni
Temperatures inside the cockpit get very hot
Only one UK car is competing in this year's World Solar Challenge in Australia.

The famous race for solar-powered vehicles, which runs from Darwin to Adelaide, begins on Sunday.

The top teams, which are supported by major motor manufacturers and have multi-million-dollar budgets, expect to complete the course in about five days; some could even average over 100 kilometres per hour (62 miles per hour) for the race.

The British entrant, which may, like the other cars, have to run in temperatures of over 40 Celsius, is called - what else? - Mad Dog. Built and run by the engineering students and staff of South Bank University in London, the sleek-looking vehicle aims to cover the stipulated 3,010 km (1,870 miles) in no more than six days.

Newer technologies

And the omens are good. Mad Dog came a very respectable 14th in the recent American Solar Challenge (from Chicago to LA, across Route 66 and the Rockies), and in its first test run in the Darwin sunshine this week managed a record top speed of 95 km/h (59 mph).

Mad Dog, South Bank Uni
Mad Dog had a good run in America this year
Team leader Dr Mike Duke says the whole project is a tremendous experience, which puts South Bank engineering students at the front of the queue when they apply for jobs at the end of their course.

"It's a complete challenge: design, build, test, prepare, shipping, logistics - everything. You just don't get that on any other course," he told BBC News Online. "If you can put down on your job application that you've done the World Solar Challenge, it virtually guarantees you an interview."

This is Mad Dog's third incarnation (Mad Dog II is now a permanent exhibit in the Science Museum of London) and its three-wheeled design incorporates newer technologies.

Battery management

The monocoque chassis is constructed from carbon fibre. The laser-cut 16%-efficient photovoltaic cells, which line the tail behind the driver's cockpit, have a special anti-reflective coating to trap the Sun's rays. The array, which is restricted in size by the rules, should produce more than 1,100 watts in the best weather conditions.

The cells charge 30 lithium-ion batteries, providing 120 volts to drive an in-hub motor on the rear wheel. By making the engine the wheel, which negates the need for chains or belts, Mad Dog can make the most efficient use of its stored energy.

"I think we could get a top speed of over 100 km/h (62 mph), judging by the first test run," said pilot Nigel Burgess. Not that Mad Dog can afford to run that fast all the time.

When the Sun is low in the sky in the morning and afternoon, the drain on the batteries has to be managed carefully to keep the vehicle rolling. That means much lower speeds.

Water rules

The cockpit is covered with a bubble to give the Mad Dog pilots some protection in the searing temperatures of the Australian desert.

I took my shirt off and just wrung it out on the ground

Nigel Burgess, Mad Dog pilot
"The last time we were here, I drove the midday stint into Katherine and the temperature inside the cockpit was over 45 degrees when I got out," Burgess said. "I took my shirt off and just wrung it out on the ground; I was just soaking wet. That's a bad day but you should expect 35 plus."

Sensibly, the rules stipulate that drivers must carry drinking water.

The World Solar Challenge dates back to 1987, when 23 solar cars from seven countries took part. That first event was won by General Motor's Sunraycer vehicle, which averaged nearly 67 km/h (41 mph).

'Kick ass'

This year's event has brought together 38 solar cars representing 11 countries. And whilst the competition is good humoured, do not think for one minute that this is not serious business.

The top teams have invested in space-age technology; their cars incorporate gallium arsenide solar cells, which charge state-of-the-art lithium-polymer batteries.

Mad Dog, South Bank Uni
A tremendous experience for the students
The bookies' favourite is the University of Michigan's M-Pulse car. The Michigan outfit is backed by the big bucks of Henry Ford. The team prepares its dream machine in an air-conditioned truck that would not look out of place at a Formula One Grand Prix.

M-Pulse won the American Solar Challenge and is in Darwin confident of getting another victory.

"It's clear they are not here to lose this race; they are here to kick ass. It must have cost them more than our car is worth just to shift that trailer over here," said Burgess.

A British Mad Dog will be biting at M-Pulse's heels - if it can get close enough.

"Realistically," said Duke, "I'd like to average around 60 km/h (37 mph) - and we'd like to win our production class."

The Mad Dog team includes two British lecturers, and 13 students and one lecturer from the Fachhochschule Bochum in Germany. The team will be writing a daily diary for BBC News Online.
See also:

25 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Mad dog heads for the Sun
25 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Aussies win solar prize
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories