Wits University’s solar car does 120km/h, uses as much power as a hairdryer

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Every two years SASOL sponsors the SASOL Solar Challenge – an event where contestants from around the world get to come to South Africa and drive their ultra-efficient, solar-powered creations on a 5 400km route, the longest event of its kind in the world.

Last year a team from Wits competed, and finished fourth. But next year the team plans to enter with its most ambitious machine, yet. It’ll be called the Parhelion, named after the solar phenomenon more commonly known as a sun dog. Currently being worked on by the Wits School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Aeronautical Engineering, the Parhelion will have some headline-making specifications.

For instance, it’ll typically cruise at 100km/h, while being able to achieve speeds of up to 120km/h. Thanks to clever aerodynamic work, and lightweight construction using the same carbon fibre composites used in Formula 1, it’ll only need the same amount of power as a hairdryer (around 1200 watts) to reach those speeds. Simple to do, when it weighs just 170kg, and generates about as much drag as sticking your hand out of a car window.

It’s no small feat, and there’s still plenty to do – the next Solar Challenge is in September 2014, with a track event set to take place three months before then. That gives gives the Wits crew about 10 months to get Parhelion running flawlessly. We’ll definitely be following this one closely.

Christo van Gemert

Christo van Gemert

Eleven years ago Christo started writing about technology for one of South Africa's (then) leading computer magazines. His first review? A Samsung LCD monitor. Hey, it was hot news, back then. Nowadays he gets more excited about photography, cars, game consoles, and faster internet connections. He's sort of an Apple fan, but will take any opportunity to remind you about his Windows-powered home theatre PC and desire to own a vanilla Android tablet.   Currently uses: Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display, Apple iPhone 5, Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000, Audiofly AF78 Earphones, Xbox 360, Nikon D50.