Bright ideas —
Students from the Netherlands will take their new solar ride 3,000 km to Spain.
The creators of a new “self-sustaining house on wheels” are hoping their strange-looking project will help spark interest in solar vehicles. The vehicle, called the Stella Vita, was made by Eindhoven University of Technology students.
Solar Team Eindhoven’s 22 members previously created a smaller solar-powered family car called the Stella Lux. According to Tijn Ter Horst, a member of the team and a mechanical engineering student at the university, the Stella Lux was energy-positive. “She could power other electric vehicles because she had so much energy left,” Ter Horst told Ars.
After producing the Stella Lux, the team began brainstorming future projects and came up with the idea of a home-like vehicle powered entirely by the Sun. In March, the students started constructing a tear-shaped solar mobile home, and they recently completed the project.
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The vehicle has the aerodynamic tear-drop shape of other solar-powered vehicles and sports a series of solar panels on its roof. However, it also has additional roofing that slides up when stationary, making it easier to stand inside to cook or sleep. The panels can also fold outward to increase their surface area to as much as 17.5 square meters.
The Stella Vita can go 730 kilometers (450 miles) on a sunny day, assuming none of the amenities inside are used. According to Ter Horst, the vehicle’s battery can be charged to full in between two and three days, though it depends on how clear the weather is. So the vehicle is really made for tours that include extended stops. But the battery can also be filled up at electric vehicle charging stations if it’s particularly cloudy out.
Inside the vehicle, amenities include a bed, a small fridge, a toilet, a couch, and a small cooking area, all of which can run on solar power. Drivers can also charge their gadgets. Ter Horst said the vehicle is something like a small home, providing everything a person might need.
Obviously, taking a shower, making coffee, or charging a laptop will eat into the Stella Vita’s drive time. The vehicle’s infotainment system informs drivers of their energy consumption so they can make decisions about their usage. “You have to choose how you use your energy. You don’t have endless energy,” Ter Horst said.
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To showcase its creation, Solar Team Eindhoven will begin to drive the vehicle 3,000 kilometers from Eindhoven to the southern tip of Spain this Sunday. The trip will take around four weeks, and the team members will present their ride at various events and universities along the way.
Similar demos have been performed in the past. For instance, the World Solar Challenge draws teams of solar vehicle creators from around the world to Australia to drive long distances while using solar power. The World Solar Challenge was canceled this year, however, and the Stella Vita’s trek is not tied to any of these events.
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According to Ter Horst, the vehicle could theoretically reach the market in five years, though the team did not produce the prototype with the goal of mass production. He said we have the technology to make these kinds of automobiles, but consumers will need to warm up to the idea. There are other cars making headway in this area, though, such as Lightyear’s vehicle. The appearance of the car might look different from the vehicles people are accustomed to, but the team hopes they will catch on anyway.
“They look a little bit strange. They seem like droplets or something,” Ter Horst noted.
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