Solar car challenge opens door to top tech future…Back seat garden a challenge to the automotive urban jungle…

How do you get a job – ahead of nearly a million applicants a year – with an international, leading edge technical project team building what may one day become an ‘icon’. Like us, you’ve probably no idea whatsoever. But UNSW mechanical engineering graduate Sam Paterson does and just months after graduating, it landed him a top spot on the US-based team developing the Tesla electric car. 

Now we’ve always thought that those various solar car challenge things were more about a fun way of getting through a semester than a really useful learning tool…Well, how wrong can you be?

Being able to say in an interview that he’d been involved in a Guinness record, a world record and three World Solar Challenges and project-managed the design and build of a new solar car certainly helped Sam land that super job. Not only that since taking up the role, he’s been able to extend the network even further.

“I’ve referred five or six outstanding UNSW engineers to Tesla, particularly those I met through the solar car project and most of them now have roles at the company,” he said.

In his spare time, Sam project-managed the Sunswift solar car project and he believes that this involvement definitely paved his way to the top tech company. “I made great friends with my counterpart on Stanford University’s solar car team over the 2012-2013 World Solar Challenge cycle and when I graduated he put me in touch with someone working at Tesla who recommended me for the job.

“The recruiters at Tesla get over a million applications per year, so if they get a recommendation from someone within the company, they take it pretty seriously. This really shows just how valuable the project is in creating networks and opportunities.”

When he started at Tesla, he was working predominantly on everything from battery modules going into Tesla’s Model X and Model S, to various sized battery packs, different cell chemistries and the modules going into the first generation of stationary storage. He is currently working on the high voltage battery pack for the upcoming Model 3.  

Tesla S Model chassis. The 85kWh battery has 7,616 18650 cells in parallel/serial configuration.Tesla S Model chassis. The 85kWh battery has 7,616 18650 cells in parallel/serial configuration.

Although his first degree was in music, Sam says he found himself drawn towards the big problem of energy, particularly clean energy. “I knew I wanted to come to UNSW and initially thought I might do a photovoltaics degree. But when I got in touch with the solar car team and discovered that it was building a new car, I decided to get involved and I soon realised I was more interested in the myriad opportunities available through mechanical engineering.”

“Batteries are going to be a big story, and I’m very glad to be part of it. We’re in really interesting times as far as energy goes. I believe the battery products we’re making at Tesla will go some way to solving that renewable energy storage problem. We have to make renewable energy a no-brainer. As we make batteries cheaper and higher energy density, they will become a serious problem for the fossil fuel industry. It’s exciting to be able to contribute to that.”

But what about the election of a US president who’s a dyed in the wool climate change skeptic? “With the government set to become much less proactive about paving the way for green technologies, it means the work we’re doing is even more important than ever.”

So what’s the most exciting thing happening in the industry at the moment? “Electric cars are going mainstream. In the last six to 12 months, every single large automaker has announced its intention of building an electric car and a date for completion. I think it’s great to have more electric vehicles out there and I’m looking forward to seeing what the competition looks like.

“It’s a really interesting time to be in the Bay area of San Francisco. Autonomous and artificial intelligence are two big things just bubbling below the surface right now but they’re coming soon. There are also some pretty wild projects going on. A couple of my friends are even working on a flying car project for one of the billionaires in the Bay! (see previous story).

Tesla’s new showroom in SydneyTesla’s new showroom in Sydney


Back seat garden a challenge to the automotive urban jungle

Swiss car designer Frank M. Rinderknecht has always challenged the notion of the urban jungle that requires SUVs the size of ‘battle tanks’ for the daily struggle for survival. Oasis not jungle has been the driving force behind a heap of concept vehicles including the latest innovation aptly named the Rinspeed Oasis, a self-drive, electric car for the city and surrounding areas.

On display at the recent Detroit motor show, amongst other events, this two-seat runabout has a futuristic appearance, somewhat reminiscent of a modern interpretation of the famous ‘star wars‘ character R2D2. Both can turn on their wheels with almost a zero radius. In the case of the Oasis, two in-wheel electric motors and torque vectoring provides the neat steering angle, developed by ZF.

The company’s IRC is a ready-to-go platform concept, powered by an axle-integrated electric drive and features an innovative chassis and a redesigned steering system. The rolling chassis is incredibly agile and intelligently networked to accommodate autonomous driving in city traffic.

But perhaps the ultimate eye-catcher is the small garden, which can provide enough space for growing radishes assuming you like radish. Apparently, it’s all about creating a ‘new living space’ in the interior of the vehicle, in this case using a removable planter.

Other features include armchairs, sideboard with a TV, leather upholstery, real wood floor and Harman life-enhancing intelligent vehicle solutions (LIVS) that lets the driver know that several Facebook friends with similar tastes have recently liked a new restaurant that just opened nearby. A quick ‘OK’ signaled to the personal assistant of the car and the table has been reserved. To interact with the Harman system, the occupants can use a slightly curved 5K-widescreen display with voice-or-gesture-control that spans the width of the Oasis.

ZF designed steering wheel stows away creating office space 

The steering wheel, also from ZF, folds flat and turns into a keyboard, or work surface, turning the vehicle into a self-driving office on wheels, complete with office productivity software and Skype video telephony with live translation. The personal assistant not only knows which of the occupants is talking to it at any one time, but also in what language.

So, who will own the car, who will operate it and what will it be used for? According to Frank, the Rinspeed has been designed to cover all options. “The Oasis can be a shopping cart in the morning, a shipping services counter for a parcel service in the afternoon and a pizza delivery vehicle at night.”

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