Category Archives: Zero Race

Benefactor Keith Drake

Whilst Trev is largely out of contact, driving through  remote stretches of north western China, we’ll take the opportunity to introduce a valued member of Team Trev: Benefactor Keith Drake from Queensland.

Keith at the Zero Race start in Geneva

Keith at the Zero Race start in Geneva

Keith heard about Team Trev through an ABC TV news story in January 2010. Keith has a long interest in sustainability, and had invested in a cleantech venture many years ago. He made contact with us and he generously agreed to become the founding Benefactor of Team Trev.

Besides Keith’s financial contribution to Team Trev, he has also generously supported us with his time and energy. He spent a week in Adelaide shortly before Trev’s departure for Europe, and spent long hours in the workshop affixing lightweight lining to Trev’s interior to make it more comfortable and presentable. This was a job which we’d always intended to do but always had other pressing technical problems to solve, so it was a godsend for Keith to take charge of this task.

Keith also flew to Europe via Adelaide before the start of Zero Race, and he lugged a large, heavy suitcase full of spare parts to Trev in  Switzerland. Then, before he could recover from jetlag, he was thrust into the frenetic activities involved with preparating for Zero Race and then the first days of the race itself.

To make matters even more challenging, several days into the race, Keith’s seat in the support van became occupied by Zero Race photographers so he was left behind to fend for himself. At that stage Trev was experiencing great technical difficulties and needed to withdraw from the race to undertake repairs in Berlin, so Keith didn’t get a chance to drive Trev in Zero Race, as intended.

With Trev’s technical difficulties largely resolved, and with the next leg of Zero Race in North America on the horizon, we hope that Keith can finally get to experience the thrill of driving Trev in the first race around the world for electric vehicles powered by renewable energy.

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Into China

On the weekend Trev crossed the border into north western China. So begins the final push of the first leg of Zero Race.

Zero Race participants at the Chinese border

Zero Race participants at the Chinese border (courtesy of Zero Race)

We need to drive 5,000km in 10 days to reach Shanghai on schedule, which means an average of 500km per day. This is a lot actually – Trev can drive about 200km between charges so realistically it means three stops per day to recharge. These stops are often in random, out of the way places and require negotiations with locals to plug into electrical outlets, generally without the benefit of speaking the same language. If the electrical outlets are poor, we can’t get enough current to charge the batteries in a reasonable timeframe, so generally we unplug and search for a better outlet. This can be a very time consuming process.

When the Zero Race vehicles get out of Chinese customs this morning, they all need to be recharged from virtually empty, and they’ll learn whether they can drive on the main highways across China or whether they have to stay on secondary roads. This will make a big difference to the speed and quality of travel and the amount of time behind the wheel. It could be a very long and demanding 10 days.

Across Kazakhstan

Last week Trev completed its crossing of Russia. Dickson successfully adopted a ‘laid back Aussie approach’ towards negotiations with Russian policemen.

Dickson's laid back approach to Russian policemen

Dickson's laid back approach to Russian policemen (courtesy of Zero Race)

After a border crossing which involved great confusion at the lack of numbers on Trev’s registration plate, the Zero Race participants crossed into Kazakhstan, ahead of a very demanding week’s driving.

Entry into Kazakhstan

Entry into Kazakhstan (courtesy of Zero Race)

The conditions of Kazakh roads have been all extremes. Brand new, virtually empty motorways were followed by some incredibly bad roads which gave Trev a brutal physical workover and damaged the rear shock absorber. Trev’s three wheeled design makes it difficult to avoid pot holes – Trev was designed for urban commuting rather than circumnavigation, after all, but the car is holding up very well so far.

Rough roads

Rough roads

Damaged shock absorber

Damaged shock absorber (courtesy of Zero Race)

Kazakhstan’s wide open steppes saw it being used as the location for much of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear testing program, leaving Kazakhstan with the legacy of having some of the most radioactive and polluted places on earth. Zero Race drove very close to some of these areas, and stayed overnight in a building once used as a sanatorium for children affected by radiation. Dickson has been on alert for any signs of Trev glowing green in the dark, and wishes he packed his lead undergarments.

Despite all the many challenges of driving through this part of the world, the welcome from local towns and communities has been very warm and hospitable. Dickson even managed to score the attention of some of some local Kazakh beauties.

Dickson meets the locals

Dickson meets the locals (courtesy of Zero Race)

This weekend Zero Race enters China.

Guest post – Benefactor Michael Vawser drives Trev

Well I have to say that was one of my best adventures for ages, and definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Driving TREV was a thrill in itself, but driving from Vienna, into Hungary through Budapest to Debrecen was a thrill and a half!

Michael driving Trev in Hungary

Michael driving Trev in Hungary

Even though not everything went perfectly for the car and we needed a few more recharges than desired, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I think the reaction of the Hungarian folks in the street was the biggest buzz – not only were they looking at a rocket shaped electric car, but it was being driven by a couple of Aussies! We were offered tea, coffee, cakes (force fed), and even Red Bull, to keep us going and to nourish us. The generosity of the people was very touching, but also the delight and awe they displayed at the journey we were on and the vehicle we were in was great. We recharged in petrol stations, museums, and even people’s front yards (through their windows)!

Recharging through a window

Recharging through a window

I never realised there would be electric car enthusiasts in Budapest! It was actually very inspiring to know that some Austrians/Hungarians had hobbies and even businesses based on electric cars. I even went for a spin in a Tesla Roadster Sport, in the hills above Vienna! Woohoo!

The Team were great – Mic, Nick, and Jason – really held it together after already two weeks of gruelling schedule – and many repairs to boot – so the guys are a credit to Adelaide. And they were in fact brilliant tutors and hosts for my trip!

Team TREV is in fact the only vehicle built from the ground up, still in the race! What an amazing achievement! Thanks to Andrew Dickson for egging me on, and for the entire team on the road and back in Adelaide for making this all possible.

I highly recommend anyone interested in a way-out experience to take up the challenge and drive TREV for a day – you will not regret it, in fact you will be delighted! I am tempted to do it again myself……!

By Michael Vawser

Good times!

Good times!

Austria, Hungary, the Ukraine and Russia

It has been some time since our last post, due mainly to difficulties communicating with our drivers and due to our drivers having such limited time for anything other than driving, exhibiting, maintenance and (limited) sleep.

We intend to “in-fill” with blog posts soon about specific anecdotes from recent weeks, just as soon as Mic and Nick return from Europe with heads full of stories and cameras full of photos. In the meantime, here’s a quick summary.

After sustaining damage to our suspension in transit from Australia, we pulled Trev out of Zero Race for several days to work intensively in a workshop in Berlin. This work successfully repaired the suspension and some Battery Management System issues, meaning that Trev could re-join Zero Race when the cars arrived in Berlin. Time very well spent.

Trev drove from Germany to Austria, where Team Trev benefactor Michael Vawser joined us for a day and drove Trev from Vienna to Budapest to Debrecen. He had a fabulous time and will post a blog entry here soon.

From Debrecen we crossed into the Ukraine, notably drove through Kiev, then north east into Moscow. The day’s drive into Moscow was a massive one, 600 km in total, and we arrived exhausted at 6am. Dickson Beattie joined us in Tula, and will be our main driver all the way through to Shanghai. Great to have a fresh driver in the cockpit after the exhausting first few weeks of Zero Race. We’ve even heard that the race has informally been renamed “Zero Sleep”!

Trev is now driving very well. At 220 km the range between recharges is slightly less than we expected and calculated, and there are a number of technical tweaks we’re working on to increase the range, but with top-up charges we’re managing well. The roads are deteriorating as we head deeper into Russia, but the Zero Race participants generally have a police escort now, which is reassuring, and the welcome from the towns and cities we’re visiting is extremely warm and hospitable. The three teams are getting on really well with each other, too, and are helping each other to resolve technical problems with all three vehicles and the Zero Race support vehicle.

Trev and ZeroTracer at a World War II memorial in Russia (courtesy of Zero Race)

Trev and ZeroTracer at a World War II memorial in Russia (courtesy of Zero Race)

Tomorrow we will cross from Russia into Kazakhstan, then a week later we’ll enter north western China and drive across China to Shanghai.

Back in the race

We are back in the race, having rejoined the rest of the teams when they reached Berlin. The suspension and battery management problems are fixed. Unfortunately, our Swiss SIM card is not having much luck with the German mobile communications networks, so we have not seen any new photographs for a few days. Our next driver, Dickson, has gone ahead to Lithuania to look for a good mobile data plan.

Trev, the remote control car

Zero Race is moving across Europe at a challenging pace—see the Zero Race blog for details. We have had no time to replace our temporary suspension fix with a permanent repair, or to fix the communications problems in the battery management system. So while the rest of the race is in Brussels, we have moved ahead to Sven’s workshop in Berlin to give us a few days to fix these problems before rejoining the event when the other teams arrive on Tuesday. (Sven is the main rider of Team Vectrix, and one of our benefactors. He has also booked to drive Trev between Moscow and Shanghai, so is keen to have the car running reliably.)

Trev in the Berlin workshop

Trev in the Berlin workshop

Communications between the crew in Europe and the rest of the team in Adelaide is improving. In fact, last night we achieved a major breakthrough in remote automotive diagnosis:

Peter, in Adelaide, hooted the horn, in Berlin.

Here is how we did it. The horn button in Trev, along with all the other driver buttons and controls, is connected to a microcontroller under the dash. When the horn button is pressed, the microcontroller sends a ‘horn on’ message to the rest of the car via the Controller Area Network (CAN) bus—a pair of communications wires which connects all of the electrical devices in the car. Another microcontroller, the front right lighting controller, receives this message and turns on the horn. When the driver releases the horn button, the driver controls box sends a ‘horn off’ message and the front right lighting controller turns off the horn. Easy. Connections are made in software, and there are no large looms of wires running around the car.

The CAN protocols automatically handle message priorities and arbitration between devices wanting to send messages at the same time.

Any device can listen in on the communications. To diagnose problems, we connect a netbook computer to the car and log the CAN messages. But we can also put messages on the CAN bus from the netbook. Last night, Nick had the netbook connected to the car, and Peter (in Adelaide) was operating the netbook via the internet using TeamViewer software.

Hooting—via wireless modem, internet, Android phone, netbook computer and CAN bus—was inevitable.