The Investigator Mini is Flinders University’s very own Solar Powered Golf Cart! Its purpose is to be the test/practice vehicle in the lead up to the arrival of the Investigator Mark III. Development of the Investigator Mini has been ongoing since 2015; converting a fuel ran cart into device that uses lithium-ion batteries and a solar panel for the roof.
While seeming simple; solar panel, battery, motor; it has been a journey to understand the many intricate components that are realistically required to make it move. The solar panel must be connected to a maximum power point tracker, and then to the battery. The battery must have a battery management system which connects to every other conceivable place. The motor must have a motor controller; that controller must be connected to the existing throttle. On top of all the physical components, there is the CAN interface that allows the transmittance of sensor data that happens in every step.
After many hours, the project has been invaluable as it has allowed the team to gain experience before work can start on the Investigator Mark III. It has given us the opportunity to identify problems, find solutions and reveal different ways to approach areas. Essential knowledge has been given to the team in areas such as the battery box, motor control and the electrical system required in an electric vehicle. Everything learnt will be applied to the solar car making it harder, better, faster and stronger for the challenge.
After being powered with lead-acid batteries for a few months, the Investigator Mini has officially soaked in its first rays of sun-light this month.
With the golf cart mechanically completed, the software systems and different electronics planned to be installed in the solar car can be explored beforehand. While it is fun to drive and brag: “We have a golf cart!”, The Investigator Mini is what will propel Flinders University from a first-time team entering the race to the same level as teams in their second plus run in the Bridgestone World Solar Competition.
Our team director Dr Stuart Wildy shares his story about starting FAST and how the team has progressed since 2015.