Electric racers lead the charge

Student teams from universities in the UAE, Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar will compete in the challenge, when they will be asked to race for 300 kilometres to test their vehicle’s energy efficiency.

Student teams compete in the qualifying races of the Global Hybrid Electric Car Challenge in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // The university students preparing their vehicles for the Global Hybrid Electric Car Challenge are hoping not only to win, but also to move their careers ahead.

“This is not just about this race or who wins, of course that’s important, but this is about these students’ futures and our future. If we are to exist we need to start thinking about humanity working with the environment,” said Professor Sami Ainane of United Arab Emirates University, who is a co-founder of the race.

Student teams from universities in the UAE, Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar will compete in the challenge, when they will be asked to race for 300 kilometres to test their vehicle’s energy efficiency.

That will take place over two days this weekend. Today, two races will involve the refrigerator-sized vehicles running on electricity alone.

On Saturday, the cars will race using electric and petrol-powered hybrid engines in a race to the finish.

“I am constantly telling my racers, just because someone is overtaking you doesn’t mean he’s actually winning. Slow down, understand your vehicle,” said Prof Ainane.

As a test of efficiency and not speed, this event will require teams to make decisions regarding the design of their vehicles, which cost about US$6,000 (Dh22,000) to build.

For example, during the second race, teams may opt to equip their cars with generators to supplement the battery energy while moving. Alternatively, they could retain the generators in the pit-stops and only charge when they pull in. Both choices have distinct advantages and disadvantages and each decision will affect performance.

Those who opted to put the generator on board will make less frequent pit-stops but will be slowed down by the weight of the generator. Those who chose otherwise will have a more lightweight build but will have to go in to the pits to recharge.

“To get the edge, to get a leg-up on the competition, we’ve decided to make our build as lightweight as possible,” said Alaaddin Al Khuzai, a Yemeni who is in his fourth year of an electrical engineering course at UAEU.

To build their cars, each team was provided with a basic kit comprising all of the necessary components. A significant portion of design was left up to their engineering prowess.

“Honestly, it was difficult, we had a lot of girls drop out but we kept at it and now we are so happy to be here,” said Tawahud Al Katheeri, an Emirati mechanical engineering student at the Petroleum Institute.

As part of the only all-female team to take last year’s model and update it, Ms Al Katheeri, the team leader, and her group of 10 engineers had to work in a short space of time.

“We basically spent our entire winter break building this car and now we think we have a good chance at winning,” she said.

Last year, an all-female team from Qatar University took first place and the Emirati women are hoping to emulate this success.

Dr Fahad Almaskari, event director for the challenge in Abu Dhabi, said he hoped the race would raise the profile of science and technology subjects.

“Supporting students to develop solutions for the next generation of electric cars is an exciting opportunity to not only build innovation capacity across the Middle East but also to invest in a sustainable future for our youth,” he said.

nalwasmi@thenational.ae