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Monday, June 24, 2024

D2N Powers Comms for World Solar Challenge Winner Sunswift Racing

For over 30 years, the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge has welcomed the greatest minds from around the world to Australia to push the limits of technological innovation and travel the outback in a vehicle powered only by the energy of the sun. Teams, usually comprising tertiary and secondary students, traverse 3000 kilometres from Darwin to Adelaide in an energy-efficient electric vehicle designed, engineered, and built with their own hands. In the latest challenge, the winning team was Sunswift Racing with an amazing car and team using comms specified and supplied by D2N – Technology Solutions.

UNSW Sydney Professor of Practice and Sunswift Racing Team Principal Richard Hopkins explained, “In preparation for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in 2023, Sunswift’s internal strategy team had done a lot of work on how to communicate between team members. This communication involved talking to the solar car itself, to other vehicles in the convoy, and to a team of support engineers based in Sydney. At this point, we realised our existing equipment would not be suitable for multi-channel communication and for the distance between vehicles on the road – sometimes up to 5-10km. So, D2N was approached to investigate potential solutions to this problem.”

Sunswift Racing’s comms requirements were comprehensive and included the need for a high-quality radio for the solar car in particular, which did not include noise dampening as ensuring the quality on the radios was critical for making split decisions and calls. They also needed a long-range radio to have the ability to communicate between convoy vehicles that were constantly on the move and had large distances between them.

Hopkins added, “On a grander scale, having a radio that worked from our escort vehicle back to Sydney was also needed for allowing the support team back home to be involved. We also required channel encryption so that our internal communication would be kept secure and clear, without the fear of other teams listening in or attempting to communicate on the same frequency. The comms also had to be multi-channel, as due to the separation of communication and the priority of certain vehicles such as the scout car, we needed radios that could be given speaking priority and be set to switch channels easily.”

Having done a full assessment, D2N specified a Hytera solution that included multiple PNC380s (for communication between convoy and Sydney), PD662s (for the solar car and escort vehicles), HP682s (for full convoy communication), mag base antennas to connect with the HP682s to extend the range between convoy vehicles, remote speaker mics for the convoy vehicles, radio harnesses to connect to driver and passenger helmets and allow for push-to-talk on the steering wheel and all respective chargers, spare batteries, and cables for each radio type.

Hopkins continued, “All the radio equipment provided by D2N was of high quality and worked without fault during the competition. The combination of antennas and remote speaker mics for each convoy radio also made the setup particularly simple to use. Given the openness of the terrain as well, this meant that the convoy could stay in communication at distances of up to 10km, which we found very helpful for the scout vehicle to provide updates and warnings during overtaking procedures.”

“The PNC380s were a game-changer for the competition by allowing us to draw upon the greater resources of the wider 90-person Sunswift team, rather than just the 25 students with the race team. The ease of use and provision of a spare redundant radio on the race team meant that communication was consistent and clear across thousands of kilometres. For the drivers, the in-car harnesses and helmet connections meant that communication with escort vehicles was very simple and consistent.”

When Sunswift originally approached D2N, by their own admission, they knew how they wished to split the lines of communication but had very little idea of how to do this.

Hopkins said, “D2N team members were both very passionate in approaching the problem and supportive of the team both by setting up the initial radio settings and instructing team members on how to make further changes themselves. This support both in terms of equipment and in the setup of this equipment, was critical for our success in the World Solar Challenge.”

While the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is the extreme use case of the D2N radio system, it is not the only time that the technology is deployed. Every couple of months, Sunswift completes a “track day” at Sydney Motorsport Park to test the vehicle and upskill team members. The HP682s are used at these events to communicate over a medium-range (up to about 1-2km) between the pit lane and the solar car. This communication allows the team to share instructions with and receive reports from the solar car reliably to achieve all necessary testing outcomes.

Hopkins explained, “The use of PNC380 radios was a major step forward in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge competition. By drawing upon the resources of our Sydney-based team, we gained a massive strategic advantage for planning ahead as well as real-time monitoring of the vehicle. The fact that, with the assistance of Starlink, we were able to communicate over such long distances in much the same fashion as we communicated with convoy vehicles within eyesight was thoroughly exciting.”

Hopkins is the first to admit that the digital radio equipment at D2N was far superior to the existing UHF radios the team had used. The ease of setup, the communication range, and the audio clarity were significantly better compared to any other market solution the team had experienced.

Richard Hopkins concluded, “The ability to communicate with Sydney, and to separate channels for radios gave Sunswift an immense competitive edge over the competition. Additionally, many teams relied on designated UHF channels which were difficult to hear on, while D2N’s digital channels were incredibly clear, greatly reducing communication errors between team members. In addition, the existing work done with D2N’s sales, service and support staff has been incredibly easy to navigate thanks to the passion for the project on each side. The D2N staff have always been very helpful and are consistently open to new ideas and exploring new solutions as Sunswift moves forward with future vehicles.”

Sunswift Racing is currently working on and developing Sunswift 8, the world’s first ‘TriBrid’ Solar, Battery and Hydrogen Fuel Cell-powered car. Due for launch in June 2025, Sunswift 8 will also include a number of key solutions provided by D2N.


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