AWS accelerates UNSW student-built solar racer to Guinness world record

On a test circuit at the Australian Automotive Research Centre (AARD) in Wensleydale, Victoria, students from the University of New South Wales claimed the Guinness World Record for the ‘Fastest EV over 1000km on a single charge’, with their solar car, Sunswift 7.

The solar-powered electric vehicle claimed the Record in under 12 hours, with an average speed of 85km/h. Sunswift 7 is the latest in a long line of successful solar-powered cars from UNSW since the first vehicle was produced in 1996.  The car weighs just 500kg, about one quarter that of a Tesla, and boasts efficiencies due to its aerodynamic design and build.

At the UNSW School of Engineering, the Sunswift Racing team of 89 student innovators from disciplines like software engineering, industrial design, and electrical engineering are redefining the future of sustainable transport through the R&D of solar EV tech. The Sunswift Racing Team is part of a university research program called Vertically Integrated Projects, a program that allows students to engage in ambitious, long-term multidisciplinary projects. 

Building the record-breaking Sunswift 7, a prototype solar electric vehicle, from the ground up over three years, students are given the freedom to innovate in various ways including vehicle design, electronics and energy storage and management, solar panel integration, electronics and control systems, data analysis and simulation, and project management.

What’s possible with Solar EV’s?

Car manufacturers are seeking new ways to make cars more efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. The key question facing here is how far, and how fast, can a car go on a single off-grid charge? Taking these questions to the limit in 2022, the Sunswift Racing Team collaborated with AWS to develop new systems for the sleek, lightweight car.

Cherie Pepperell, Team Manager at Sunswift Racing
Cherie Pepperell, Team Manager at Sunswift Racing

“The reliability and scalability of AWS has transformed our operational approach. We have been able to raise the bar on innovation and creativity. While developing the car from scratch, we learned new ways cloud tech can be used to drive results from data and analytics, and how to better streamline our operations, and get the benefit from efficiencies in cost,” said Cherie Pepperell, Team Manager and biomedical and mechanical engineering student, UNSW.

Data rules the racetrack

In motorsports telemetry data rules the racetrack. Automatically recorded and transmitted from the racer to the pit, this data is vital to better understand, and manage a vehicle. In solar EV record attempts, every variable is analysed, generating huge volumes of data.

Using AWS, allowed the team to dedicate more time to using and learning from this data to improve their racer, rather than worrying about the logistics of collecting, storing, and analysing it. In this case, the cloud is the engine of innovation and education for the team. 

Commenting on the importance of AWS in their endeavor, Josh Bramley, Technology Manager of the Sunswift Racing Team, and a mechatronics engineering and computer science student at UNSW, said, “AWS gives us the ability to visualise data a lot better, and reliably to know when to stop the car, when to re-evaluate and diagnose issues on track day.”

“Telemetry data picks-up on weird noises and even smells, helping us to hone-in on the areas in the car we should be analysing. Without AWS we wouldn’t have a world record today.”

During its Guinness World Record attempt, the Sunswift Racing Team monitored data, such as motor and battery temperature, car speed, energy consumption, driver performance, and battery state from 60 sensors on the car, generating over 1000 data points per second.

This data was uploaded to AWS in real-time, enabling the team to gather an extensive range of information about the vehicle’s operation, and analyse the data to find every possible efficiency. AWS’s scalable IoT and computing capabilities helped the team process and respond to vehicle telemetry data in real-time, promptly identify any faults or issues, and also performed preventative analysis to address situations like overheating before they happen. 

Driving efficiencies through Cloud

The team identified, that to be more strategic in their decision-making, they needed to better streamline development processes, and efficient data analysis to enhance the performance, along with being ensuring data reliability and quality. The team has used AWS services to help build applications for predictive quality, maintenance, and remote operation monitoring. 

Machine learning, and analytics has enabled the Sunswift Racing Team to comprehensively visualise data, helping to collect and track metrics, set alarms for specific events and thresholds like battery capacity or temperature. The ability to build and test code with automatic scale had a significant impact on the team’s development process, drastically reducing build times from an average of 15-20 minutes down to an impressive 3-4 minutes. 

“We just need to trust the data. With AWS, the team can focus on improving performance, fixing the car, do proper analysis, and make more strategic decisions, rather than worrying about the quality of the data. We see new joiners to the team every term, so having easy-to-use services on AWS really accelerates the onboarding and upskilling experience,” said Luke Tedesco, a UNSW computer science student specialising in Artificial Intelligence.

What next for Sunswift 7?

Sunswift 7 is now gearing-up for the biennial Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in October 2023. AWS is supporting the Sunswift Racing Team to improve the Sunswift 7 racer for this 3,000km gruelling endurance run through the Australian Outback from Darwin to Adelaide. 

“Programs like Sunswift Racing are creating future leaders in engineering, and the freedom the students had while developing this amazing car allowed them to push the boundaries of what is possible,” said Professor Richard Hopkins, who oversees the program at UNSW.

“EV adoption is still relatively hesitant in Australia, and we can help change this with our successes. We can also dream that one day a piece of tech from our project could end up in all EVs. With this record, our team has proven that renewable energy can power the future.”

What are the thoughts of AWS on the Sunswift 7?

“In the tech sector, we have a unique opportunity to steer innovation towards a sustainable future. As these talented students experiment with cloud technology, they are not just developing software but shaping a more environmentally-friendly world,” commented AWS’s Chief Technologist for the public sector in Australia and New Zealand, Simon Elisha.

“Sunswift Racing Team’s curiosity and dedication show us that the path to sustainability is guided by those who explore and embrace new solutions,” Simon Elisha further added.