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.

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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.

Technical difficulties…

We have experienced a few technical difficulties over the past few days. Most frustrating have been problems establishing reliable communications between the crew in Switzerland and the rest of the team back in Australia. Getting a good data plan is not easy if you are only going to be in a country for a few days. But the information and photos started flowing today (thanks Keith!), and we have started a gallery.

Nick on the start line, Geneva, looking for an Australian socket

We have also had some problems with the car:

  • Moisture in the battery box caused communication problems in the battery management system. This did not stop the car from driving, but Nick and Jason put in long hours in the two days leading up to the start of the race trying to fix the problem. The crew will pick up replacement parts in Brussels.
  • There was some damage to the lower suspension mounts in transit. With the help of the Zerotracer team, the crew has overcome the problem by running reinforcing beams across the underside of the car. Meanwhile, the team back in Australia has worked out a permanent repair.
  • The installation of the GPS tracker in our car has not been reliable; consequently, our location on the Zero Race web site has been missing or delayed. This should be fixed soon.

The crew is working very hard—Zero Race events, driving between cities, and maintaining the car. Mic joined the crew yesterday, and provided some welcome respite. But they are in good spirits, and getting an enthusiastic response to the car wherever they go. We will post some of their stories and photographs over the next few days.

Go!

After months of preparations and a journey half way around the world, Trev joined other competitors to start Zero Race yesterday in Geneva at the Palais De Nations.

Courtesy of Zero Race

After formalities including speeches by representatives from the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Zero Race, the race commenced at 1:30pm.

Ready, Set …

Trev has been in the Zero Race workshop since arriving in Lucerne on Thursday. Nick and Jason (now joined by Keith) have been working hard to iron out a number of issues in preparation for the race prologue later today.

Trev in the left foreground, SolarTaxi (http://www.solartaxi.com) on the far left, battery tray in centre

Our Battery Management System has some glitches caused by corrosion and perhaps by some transit induced faulty connections. Trev’s tie-down points inside the shipping crate had pulled away from the surrounding timber, so perhaps it was a very bumpy flight across from Australia.

Yesterday we were lucky to have the assistance of Simon and family, expat Aussies living in Switzerland, who helped us to find and purchase various  items locally. Thanks guys.

Touch down

Trev has winged his way from Australia to Europe, and has just been successfully retrieved from customs in Zurich by our initial drivers, Nick and Jason. They’re taking Trev to a workshop in Lucerne for final preparations, ready for pre-race events on Sunday evening and for the official Zero Race start on Monday afternoon in Geneva.

The pre-race event is a race up the Grimsel Pass to the top of the Swiss Alps, and is open to any electric vehicle (including the Zero Race entrants).

The start of Zero Race will be quite spectacular – it will all take place at the UN’s Palais des Nations, overlooking Lake Geneva. The ceremony will be conducted near the rows of national flags and will involve the opening of the Pregny Gate – a very rare occurrence apparently. Expect some gorgeous photos in a few days’ time!

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