Bengaluru: Over two years of hard work, oodles of enthusiasm and nearly Rs 2 crore worth of investment – that’s what it took for a group of students at RVCE to build Soleblaze, a hi-tech single-seater solar powered car. On September 19, it seemed as if their efforts had paid off, when the car was taken for its first test run on the Infosys campus, just before the World Solar Challenge held in Australia, which was their ultimate goal. Much to their dismay, however, the students – Gamini Garg, Vikram Nath, Gokul S., Adithya Raju, Vaibhav Natrajan, Mohammed Moiz and Pramod Rao – found that their car had not yet arrived by October 8, when they reached Darwin, Australia.
“By the time the car arrived, the first round – Static Scrutineering – was complete,” said Gamini Garg, a member of the core team for Soleblaze and now a final year student at RVCE. “We were one of the few teams to complete the first round at one go, beating teams from some of the world’s top universities. The event organisers were very understanding and gave us a stretch on the deadline for Round 1.”
The car arrived on October 14 and the battery two days later, on October 16. But the team found that the battery had been damaged, leaving them with no choice but to call off its mission just before the final 3,000-km run. “The organisers were still impressed with our enthusiasm and the fact that our car was one-tenth the cost of what other teams had. The University of Michigan was also ready to donate its battery to us. But because of safety reasons, we couldn’t take them up on their offer.”
The idea for the car began when Gamini and her classmates were second-year students at RVCE, through the college's Experiential Learning Programme, that happens every semester. The point was to take real-world ideas and relate them to their subjects – as it happened, solar powered cars became their topic. “We were starting from the scratch. We had to look at how solar technology could be incorporated and where it needed to be developed," Gamini explained. All they had was an idea – there was no prototype with which to approach sponsors. This didn't stop them, however and Chethan Maini, one of the heads of Mahindra Reva, proved a huge source of support. "He had taken part in the same challenge when he was in the University of Michigan and he encouraged us in so many ways," she said.
They also shot off an email to Sunpower, a leading company in solar energy, which decided to donate a collection of solar cells, worth about Rs 20 lakh. Sun Edison, a global leader in solar technology, is their title sponsor, with a contribution of Rs 10 lakh, the first company to donate money. TCS liked the idea as well and put forth the same amount. "Then, we spoke to Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, who gave us Rs 10 lakh in his personal capacity, along with a challenge," said Gamini. The challenge was to give the car its first test-run on the Infosys campus, which they did on September 19. "Infosys as a company gave us Rs 20 lakh," she said. Wipro also gave them Rs 5 lakh and titled them the Wipro Young Achievers of 2014-15.
Soleblaze's logistics team is still on its way back from Darwin, after which the team plans to approach its college and look into the details of what went wrong during shipping. "We would also like to thank our college. They gave us a great deal of support, even though all we had at the start was an idea," she said.