It seems I am caught in a machinery warp. A few days ago we were driving on the Stuart Highway. Traffic is usually light but on this morning a vehicle drove past with cautionary bubble lights ablaze indicating some hazard was approaching. So I became extra cautious when I could see another similar vehicle approaching at a distance. I slowed thinking it must have been an extra wide hazard to require two out runners. Looking carefully I could see no such trouble ahead.
As the second vehicle neared I saw what looked like a yellow garbage bin rolling along in front of it. The signalling vehicle looked as if it was about to run over this obstacle as it neared even closer. The circular bubble had a drooping black tail. It dawned on me it was a solar vehicle. The tiny vehicle was racing along and its protective vehicle was almost on top of it. Feeling for that driver I was sure he/she must have been exhausted trying to protect it and at the same time attempting avoid running it over.
At the next fuel stop a tent village had sprung up with a large pantechnicon parked showing all the advertising of the sponsors of the Solar challenge. The little yellow vehicle was being transported to Darwin for the start of the race. In the meanwhile the drivers were testing the vehicle and themselves before the races official start. Another larger vehicle was driving loops in the dust so I wandered over to find out more.There were two university teams parked in the grounds. One team from Minnesota university the other from Michigan. According to my advisor the little yellow dust bin was built for speed alone. The car present was more representative of a passenger vehicle it was being driven earnestly in circles by a young lass. To be race ready the drivers had to have logged driving experience of at least 12 hours. This team was well behind in driver familiarity and was also testing the vehicle to see if anything would break. It was a passenger vehicle of sorts. At least it had a passenger inside. The car had a solid top and the driver sat in an aerodynamic pod on the left and the passenger in another. Both pods seemed to be suspended under the solar panels between the wheels.
I was told it was generating 200 watts of power and it had regenerative brakes that generated power even when stopping. This might seem a lot but Cadel Evans was using 450 watts of power on the mountain stages of the tour de France. Therefore it seemed underpowered for the job ahead even with some battery storage.
On reflection I needn’t have worrier end about the driver following the little yellow dust bin. It was probably equipped with all the latest technology that would automatically stop the car from the hazard it was following.
However the solar race starts at the end of the month and it will be interesting to see if either of these modern, yet primitive, users in this technological race finish. I will be left wondering about them because the journey is long and the dangers real for the drivers especially given the thundering presence of road trains they will encounter.