Based on an interview with Jake Oliver, Team Principal at QUT Motorsport.
The Queensland University of Technology prides itself on being a university for the real world. With the QUT Motorsport program, I think that it could claim to be a university for the unreal world of the future! In FSAE-A, the electric cars are entirely student designed, built, and raced. Although they have relatively low top speeds (120 km/h), they race on tight, technical racetracks where they pull 2–3 G’s of lateral force in the corners. This is similar to the force that F1 cars can pull around corners.
The FSAE-A competition has about 20 active Australian teams and over 700 teams and 20,000 students competing worldwide. One of the Swiss university teams produces the fastest accelerating electric car in the world. The record is held by AMZ racing — taking a sizzling 1.513 seconds to go from 0–100 km per hour.
The QUT Motorsport team is not quite there yet. This year they are aiming for sub-3 seconds for their 2022 car (QEV-4).
Last year, the team faced ongoing issues with overheating and reduced performance from the motors on their QEV-3 vehicle. They had wired the four electric motors to the rest of the system using the rules-mandated connection type. As it turns out, their motor manufacturer had specified a particular connection style (soldering) that was in direct contravention of the rules (which exist largely for safety reasons). One rules enquiry later, the governing body accepted the manufacturer’s word that the solution was safe, and after months of headaches, the motors were working as expected! In this cutting edge world, sometimes even competition regulators need to adapt fast to keep up with the requirements of the hardware and technology being developed.
Jake Oliver, Team Principal at QUT Motorsport, also tells the story of a 2021 competition where the team had spent the afternoon preparing for their first run. “The software team was doing some final over-the-air (wireless) optimizations to the motor settings. As our driver pulls out of the garage they start reporting strange behavior followed by a loss of drive, spelling the end of our afternoon. Our electrical and software teams worked tirelessly through the night to find a fix, with little success. Early the next morning, with hours until the next event, one of our academic supervisors came to assess the situation. With his fresh eyes we quickly found a single software setting had been set incorrectly and was causing the motor controllers to get confused and shut down every time we asked for power! Resetting that one value solved the issue, the car was re-assembled and we got back to track on time to test ourselves against the other QLD teams!
“At the end of the day, these are incredibly complex, prototype vehicles. We design, build and optimize a new car every single year so these cutting-edge pieces of machinery are always going to be tricky to get right! The fact that we’re entirely student-run makes this feat even more impressive.”
The QUT Motorsport team is always pushing the limits, so there is no instruction manual. The work is research in action, involving a variety of disciplines. Their goal in the next 18 months is to become the best team in Australia, then go to Germany and compete in Europe. This year, they are also competing with a driverless version of their 2021 car using LIDAR and stereo vision. The car does a slow preview drive around the track marked with cones. The second lap goes much faster, with the car racing at full speed autonomously.
Research validated in the real world of motor racing will eventually move into everyday use. The project uses 600 volt electric motors whose development will directly apply to current vehicles. QUTs research will lead to improvements in battery management, optimize life, and improve safety.
Come and see QEV-3 and the QUT Motorsport team at the Noosa EV Expo!
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