LOVE and passion for solar cars have brought two young mechanical engineering undergraduates from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) together for next year’s Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia from Oct 13 to 20.
With nine of their peers, Muhamamad Syazwan Johari and Muhammad Adli Zaid are third-generation members of EcoPhoton Solar Racing Team, a student-run project in UiTM.
Team leader Syazwan, 23, said EcoPhoton is a team of brave and energetic students, who were willing to chase their dreams.
He said at the moment, the solar car project was the biggest student project with a cumulative budget of RM1.3 million since 2015.
Reminiscing the birth of EcoPhoton, he said the team was founded in 2014 by their senior, Azwan Abdullah, with the aim of making UiTM a leading university in solar vehicle technology in Malaysia.
Syazwan said it wasn’t easy as raising funds during that time was nearly impossible because not many Malaysians were willing to invest in green technology.
“Nevertheless, Azwan and his first-generation team worked hard and were able to participate in the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge with their first car named Stingray.
“The second-generation team, led by Ungku Muhammad Zulhilmi, incorporated more technological improvements in their car, which was named Tuah.
“The car featured a wireless monitoring system that allowed real-time data collection,” said Syazwan, who also took part in the challenge last year.
As EcoPhoton is gearing up for another year of excitement, Syazwan is busy leading his team in developing their latest car named Tigris.
He also helps in getting sponsorships, while making sure that targets and guidelines are implemented.
The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is a renowned race.
Syazwan said teams needed to travel 3,000km from Darwin to Adelaide in five days, and the cars must not be powered by anything except the sun.
“The race is all about compiling a great strategy by taking into account of things like wind speed, sunlight intensity, road slopes, car speed, air density and even traffic.
“All this data is useful to create a race strategy that allows us to reduce journey time without using too much energy.
“A cruising speed of 70kph is usually the best as it requires little energy from the sun, but still allow our car to catch up with other teams,” he said.
Non-technical leader Adli, 22, said he believed their team represented the university in terms of its latest application of solar technology in the automotive sector.
“That was the reason why the mechanical engineering students, with the supervision of lecturers, entered the race, which is to embrace the importance of solar technology.”
Adli oversees the progress of his team and keeps track on the productivity of the non-technical department.
He works closely with Syazwan in making sure that the team objectives and visions are achieved.
Syazwan said he was recruited in February last year by team leader Ungku, and had no knowledge of solar cars.
“Ungku recruited me based on my past experience in electronics and electrical projects. I went with the flow back then, and was intrigued to see how the car is built.
“He pointed to me and asked if I knew how to wire everything up. I said, of course, I could do it. But little did I know that it was hard to install all the circuits and wiring.
“I started small with the car and achieved something that I never thought could have been done. And finally, I made the car move.
“From that moment on, I never looked back.”
For Adli, what interests him most, besides the advanced technology, was connecting with other race participants and exchanging their know-how.
“Malaysia isn’t the only country in this competition. There are many teams from all over the world. In a way, by connecting with them, you will be more open-minded.”
Syazwan said if he was to list down everything that he learned, it would surely be a long list.
He said he had gained a lot of knowledge that he wouldn’t get in a classroom, including soft skills.
“For example, in the classroom, you will not be taught how incoming wind speed may affect the power consumption of the solar vehicle.
“But in this team, I’ve learned a lot about it and can even produce a near-perfect simulation strategy for the race.
“As for the team members, the best they can get is experience. There is no other student project that can match the level of teamwork we have in fabricating the car and racing it in Australia.”
Adli said from the management perspective, this challenge didn’t only require technical skills and knowledge.
“It also needs great problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Developing my team is one of my visions," Adli said.
Syazwan, who idolises Elon Musk for his creative and innovate ideas, especially in electric vehicles, said when he first joined EcoPhoton, was not sure whether he could make his team’s solar car work.
“I had these crazy ideas on how I could fix the wiring, electronic circuits, install signal lights, horns and batteries.
“During that moment, I knew I wanted to be part of the team and push myself to my limit.”
He added that the best thing he learned in the race was to use something “simple and usable”.
“People should think outside the box in solving a problem. But sometimes, there are simpler solutions that may save time and money.”
For next year’s challenge, Syazwan hopes that the EcoPhoton Solar Racing Team can partner with industries to make Malaysia a greener country, and reduce its carbon footprint by applying innovative ideas in transport.
Adli hopes the team will emerge among the Top five in the Challenger Class, which will raise UiTM in the eyes of the world.
“I always believe that when we do something, make sure that we are wholehearted in doing it.
“And, no matter what, always be generous in sharing knowledge because we won’t just be helping others, but we will help ourselves become better as well.” he said.