The Brunel Solar Team – a group of talented engineering students in the Netherlands – is currently preparing for the Sasol Solar Challenge in South Africa, where they will race solar car ‘Nuna11S’, which they have designed and built from scratch. Team Captain Sanne Vilters shares her experience of being on the close-knit team. Freshly graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Industrial Design Engineering from TU Delft, she is currently dedicating herself to the project on a full-time basis, in preparation for September’s race.
Brunel Solar Team
“We are a self-managing team of eleven students. Almost all of us come from Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and have different technical backgrounds. For example, one has a background in Robotics, the other is doing Aerospace Engineering or Econometrics. We are truly multidisciplinary, and we complement each other very well. You see, someone who has studied Applied Physics has a very different view of certain problems than someone who has a background in Industrial Design. And that's great, because sometimes you just can't solve a problem and then you all sit down for it. Then you will always come to new insights. As Team Captain I have the task of facilitating the team as best as possible, so that everyone can do their job well. Everyone feels the responsibility to make it a success together.”
Passion for innovation“We do everything we can to win and we really push the boundaries of what is possible. We do this for a greater purpose, which is to inspire the world in the field of sustainability and innovation. We want to show what can be done with solar energy. That's why we want to win, why we want to generate attention and why we choose certain expressions, campaigns, events, and collaborations – all to show what is possible with only the energy of the sun. We don't make any money with it ourselves, so we do this purely because we all enjoy it so much. Passion is what drives us. Of course, this is great experience for later in life and for our careers, but initially everyone does it because it's really fun and we can contribute to society. We want to contribute to the future.”
“I completed a bachelor's degree in industrial design at TU Delft, but before I continue with a master's degree, I will focus entirely on this project for over a year. Gradually you learn more and more about what you actually have to do as Team Captain and how you can best fulfill that role. You are thrown into the deep end, but you learn so much from it. You learn about yourself, what you like and what you can and cannot do well. You are certainly not alone and you will receive a lot of help from all the alumni who have gone before you. My predecessor Christiaan Wiers told me all about how he handled things. If you have a problem and you ask some former team members for advice, they never come up with the same answers. It is up to you to consider what you think about it and how you are going to approach it. Almost every situation that arises has happened before, so you certainly don't reinvent the wheel every time. You build on the knowledge of previous years and I think that is what makes the team so strong and why we can keep moving forward.”
“Each version of the Nuna has a two-year development cycle. The first year is the year of construction. The team starts from scratch and spends a year designing, building and testing a new car. The year of construction ends with a race. After that race, a new team will start working on the further development of the Nuna. In this year you will analyse what went wrong and what could have been done better. What went really well and what should we keep? The team goes through the design, development, and testing phases and then there is another race. We are now working on the Nuna11S, the further development of the Nuna11. We chose to leave the outside as it is. Such a chassis costs a lot of time and money to make and Nuna11 actually functions very well, especially in the field of aerodynamics. It has all been calculated: what the best shape is and what the best way is to arrange such a car. We have every confidence in that. We see that we can gain much more in other areas, such as a solar panel or a motor. Basically, we're focusing on everything that’s inside the car this year."
“You want to come up with something new and that involves risks. You always have to consider: what are the risks and how much will it yield?”
- Sanne Vilters, Team Captain
“One of the biggest challenges for this team is to find the balance between security and innovation. You want to do everything you can to win and at the same time you want to innovate. Coming up with something new naturally entails risks. That is very exciting and fun, because if you were to do the same thing every year, it would be boring. But it is also a real challenge. You always have to consider: what are the risks and how much will it yield? We use ‘race minutes’ to validate choices. Where can I still get racing minutes? Suppose we make the panel a little more efficient, how much does that yield? Suppose we make the car a kilo lighter, how much does that yield? We came third in Morocco. We would like to be first this year and a lot still needs to be done for that.”
“We are currently a development team, but later when we go to South Africa we will become a racing team. That's a big difference. Now we have a very flat structure; we consult with each other on everything and we all have the same say. You can't do that during the race. If Nuna is at a turn and she has to turn left or right, we can't consult with the whole team. So at some point we have to make the switch to a different team structure, in which the division of roles is clear and we can trust each other blindly. The person who makes the choice at that moment is also consciously designated for it. In addition, we also know exactly who should do what (such as if a tire needs to be changed, for example). We practice this to the end, so that everyone is completely attuned to each other, just like in a Formula 1 team.”
Talented, young engineers creating a better future!
Please note: direct quotes within this article have been translated to English from Dutch.