Makers take on the world in solar car challenge

Today we celebrated the launch of Sol Invictus, ANU’s very first solar car. The car has been a collaboration between 30 students from faculties across the university.

We caught up with Dominic D’Castro, engineering student and long-time ANU MakerSpace user. Dom has been utilising the MakerSpace to build everything from steering wheels to miniature solar cars.

Dominic D’Castro with Sol Invictus

Can you tell us what you’ve been up to here in the MakerSpace?

“So, me and a group of friends from engineering decided to build a car for the Darwin and Adelaide solar car race and we’ve been using a few of the tools and pieces of equipment at the makerspace to help us achieve that.”

Inside the steering wheel, which was cut on the TROTEC laser cutter

How did you find out about the maker space?

“Like all good things on campus it was by word of mouth. I started at the MakerSpace a long time ago, about two years ago now. I started because I had a friend who was doing some stuff there, it’s been really nice to see it grow and so many other students use it. The makerspace allows me to really get hands on. A lot of other places on campus, you have to go through so many levels of induction and admin, you never actually get to make your part. In the makerspace, after your induction, you get to be hands on with all the equipment and actually make it. It is a really great way to learn from mistakes because obviously a lot of things we do, we have to make multiple times and it is really good that we can refine my engineering a lot in the makerspace.

What machines have you used in the MakerSpace?

“We’ve used everything, pretty much, in the MakerSpace. We’ve used the little mill to make our steering crown. We’ve used the laser cutter there to make our steering wheel, and prototype a lot of stuff. We’ve used the 3-D printers there for a lot of our marketing and advertising material. Our project is really hands-on, so not only do we build the car, we also have to raise all the funds for the car, and the makerspace has been really great for that.”

A collection of Sol Invictus models, 3-D printed in the makerspace

“A lot of the things we’ve had to do is trial and error. So, a lot of the stuff it is really important that it fits together really accurately and really well and also it is functional. So, having the ability with a space such as the makerspace to make things quite quickly especially things on the 3d printers and the Carvey [CNC router] and the laser cutter has allowed us to make a much better car than we would’ve if we had to go around guessing everything.”

Steering Crown milled on the CNC router

You used the soldering equipment in the MakerSpace to attach your batteries, it looks like that was quite a lot of work.

“About ten minutes a battery, times 400 batteries, is quite a few hours of soldering…we had a production line of five people and it still took us a couple of days”

All that solar power has to be stored somewhere

Could you describe the makerspace environment?

“The makerspace is a really friendly environment. Although I work there a lot, every now and then there’s a question or a bit of equipment or a setting I am not too sure about, there is always somebody there who can answer you and is willing to help you out with it.”

Have you done anything like this before?

“No! The thing about University is you really have to put yourself out there if you want to get hands on like this. This is the first project that I’ve done of its kind, and I think it’s the first project in a fair while that engineering has done. So, we’re really at the forefront of ANU Engineering.”

And why solar cars?

The solar car race and the BWSC Darwin to Adelaide race is a great opportunity to put our engineering skills against the world. There’s 35 other teams around the Americas, Europe and Asia that compete in the race, and it is a really good opportunity to see and compare ourselves to everybody else that you don’t get to see for small scale engineering projects.

So, who gets to drive the car?

“We race the car ourselves…unfortunately, we put our lives in our own hands.”

Dom helping the driver into the car, the driving seat is expected to reach temperatures of 40 degrees during the race

Do you have any advice for potential new users?

“Don’t get scared. Try whatever you want to try. There will be somebody out there who will help you and it’s really good to put your creativity to the test.”

The Sol Invictus team launching their car with sponsers MTAA Super and VC Brian Schmidt

The car is heading to Darwin this week to compete in the World Solar Challenge, a 3000km race from Darwin to Adelaide. We wish the team the best of luck!

Phoebe Armitage and Leonard Cheung have been interviewing makers from the ANU MakerSpace as part of their course: Scinece Communication and the Web, run by the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.
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