IVE students' Sophie paves new roads towards a greener future

IVE students' Sophie paves new roads towards a greener future

Students at Hong Kong's Institute of Vocational Education are making the future eco-friendly with their solar-powered vehicle

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Sophie III and part of the team.
Sophie III and part of the team.
Photo: IVE

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? A spaceship? No, it's a car - just one that looks like it came from outer space. Sophie V is a solar-powered car built by a team at Hong Kong's Institute of Vocational Education (IVE).

Launched in 2011, the Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle (Sophie) project is all about getting students interested in a career in engineering while promoting the idea of green transportation to the public.

For the first few years, Sophie was just a bit of fun. But in 2013, the students entered Sophie V's predecessor, Sophie IV, in the GoPro Adventure Class category of the World Solar Challenge in Australia. The competition challenges participants to build power-efficient electric vehicles, and out of 20 entrants, Sophie IV came fourth.

Sophie II.
Photo: IVE

This October, they are entering Sophie V in the competition, and have their sights set on the Cruiser Class category.

The Cruiser Class category is also for solar-powered vehicles, but there is an emphasis on practicality, so the team of 18 IVE students and teachers knew that the latest model had to be quite different from previous versions.

Designs must have four wheels and be able to carry a passenger, whereas the Adventure Class only requires designs to have three wheels and space for a driver.

Another difference is that "there were less design restrictions in the Adventure Class, so Sophie IV looked more like a UFO than a car", says Dr Peter Chiu Ping-kuen, the head of the Department of Engineering at IVE. "This time around, Sophie V has to look like an actual car to score well," he adds.

The added weight and speed requirements of the car meant that the design had to be very different, and more complicated, when compared to the previous model. For example, the brakes had to be more refined to control the four-wheeled vehicle.

But the challenge only encouraged the Sophie V team to work even harder.

Sophie IV.
Photo: IVE

"I am really interested in sophisticated electrical and mechanical engineering of cars," says 19-year-old student Samson Lau Ngai-hung, who is responsible for installing the solar panels and programming the electrical components of Sophie V.

"The aerodynamics are completely different this time around," says Chiu, "but the team overcame these obstacles using computer simulations and 3D printing."

Sophie V is heavier than Sophie IV, weighing 340kg as opposed to 170kg. But it is also more streamlined than its predecessor, measuring 4.5 metres instead of 5m. Sophie V is also a lot faster, reaching speeds of 110km/h. This is a big improvement on Sophie IV's 70km/h.

Lau says he joined the team to test himself.

"We don't go into that much detail in class. Joining the Sophie V team has forced me to use my initiative and learn more about solar panels," says Lau.

They are, once again, the only Hong Kong team to enter the contest. But while they are excited about the upcoming competition, they aren't too concerned about coming first.

"It doesn't matter if we place first, second or third," says Lau. "It's the experience we gain from the competition and the relationships we form with talented foreign competitors that really matter".

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
The new, green machine

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