Stella Era searches for the sun on its own

Why build a new solar car when startup Lightyear is already working hard at bringing one to the consumer market? According to Mick van der Spoel, project manager at Solar Team Eindhoven, their version, named Stella Era, comes with a revolutionary new concept. With its fourth car, the team expressly focuses on sharing energy, it developed its own app for this purpose, and Stella Era will search for the sunniest spots autonomously. Extra features that will become increasingly important during the upcoming World Solar Challenge in Australia.

photo Bart van Overbeeke

Solar Team Eindhoven (STE) played a short movie at the press presentation during MomenTUm on campus this afternoon in which the team members explained what motivated them to join team. The statement “I want to drive around without feeling ashamed” sounds like a variation on what is known as flying shame, a feeling that many people experience nowadays when they travel to sunny destinations on cheap flights. It doesn’t take long before PR manager Marije Sesink clarifies the statement “I don’t want to spend money on energy, I want to make money off it instead.” She says that with the introduction of Stella Era, the process of making mobility more sustainable does not apply to this car alone, but that other electrical cars nearby can benefit as well. It will become possible for people to tap energy from Stella Era if the owner gives permission. And he or she can ask a compensation and make some money that way.

Stella App

STE developed an app with which people can search for the nearest Stella Era’s or charging points. Of course, drivers from other electric cars are not supposed to completely use up Stella Era’s power bank. Van der Spoel: “That is why the car has access to the owner’s daily planner, that way, it can calculate how much energy is needed for any particular day.” According to the project manager, the car also adjusts the required energy supply to the weather forecast. If clouds are predicted, Stella Era will have less energy to share. “We basically created a charging point on wheels,” Sesink says.

Searching for the sun

But that is not all. Stella Era will also be able to search for sunny locations autonomously. “If Stelle Era is parked on a spot where the sun has disappeared, she will be able to detect that herself and use the maps of TomTom to drive to a location where the sunlight is optimal at that moment. That way, no energy gets wasted. Two cameras on the front of the car and eight radars on all sides ensure that there are no accidents along the way,” Van der Spoel says. The app will help the owner find the car’s new location. The owner, incidentally, can switch this option on or off. The same applies to the option of sharing energy with other electric car owners. “And there is an option as well for those who wish to share energy for free,” Sesink says.

Because the organizers of the World Solar Challenge changed the rules for the participants in the Cruiser class, features that aren’t directly linked to efficiency have become increasingly important. These features include a more practical design of the car, and more comfort. Van der Spoel and Sesink expect that their concept will be grouped in that category and that they will score high with these features. “That social context counts for fifty percent of the number of points during the final assessment.”


But of course, this team also kept busy as far as technology is concerned. Van der Spoel: “You can distinguish between three different parts. Aerodynamic design is the first, that is why everyone will recognize the droplet shape of the earlier versions. This version doesn’t have any side mirrors either, but two miniscule cameras, which makes the design more streamlined. The second part is minimalizing the car’s weight, because less weight means less energy use. That is why our model’s engines are located in the two front wheels instead of in all four, where the engines of earlier models used to be. That saves quite a lot of weight.”

And STE built these engines themselves this time around, which led to a considerable increase of the third part: efficiency. Van der Spoel: “We built them based on a thesis that described how to optimize the engines. The engines you can buy on the market and that were used in the past are much less efficient and not powerful enough. We think we can reach an efficiency of 98.5 percent with our engines, and they are extremely powerful. We expect to reach a speed of well over ninety. We are currently adding the finishing touches and we will then start to test them.” He is firmly convinced that these wheels will be on the car at the start of the race in Australia on October 13.

More efficiency also has to ensure that another rule that the organization changed does not constitute an obstacle. The participants in the Cruiser class will only be allowed to recharge twice between the start in Darwin and the finish in Adelaide. This means that the cars will have to cover a distance of about twelve hundred kilometers without stopping to recharge. PR manager Sesink says that the team has high expectations as far as this is concerned as well. In any event, the team will spend the next few weeks further developing, building, tuning, testing and refining their car.

The unveiling of Stella Era for a large audience took place on the 18 Septemberplein in the afternoon of Thursday the 4th of July.

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