Blue Sky Solar Racing unveils new solar-powered race car

Viridian will compete in race of over 3000 kilometres across Australia

Blue Sky Solar Racing unveils new solar-powered race car

A team of U of T Engineering undergraduate students named Blue Sky Solar Racing unveiled Viridian, the 10th generation of its solar-powered race car, in its first public unveiling event on June 24.

For over 22 years, different compositions of the team designed, built, and raced solar-powered cars, creating a new generation every two years.

This year, Blue Sky Solar Racing completed the design and manufacture of Generation X. The vehicle was showcased to the public for the first time at Myhal Centre Auditorium.

Race car’s manufacture celebrated by keynote speakers

The buzzing audience included team alumni, sponsors, and staff from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. Around 200 guests attended in total.

Following an introduction by Managing Director Hubaab K. Hussain, two professors delivered remarks onstage.

Professor Amy Bilton, the Director of the Centre of Global Engineering, discussed her experiences as an alumna of Blue Sky Solar Racing. She reflected on her involvement as the Aerodynamics Team Lead in 2006, and noted that the team puts in an incredible amount of effort each year.

“[The team members] are basically doing more than a full-time job at the same time as they are doing a full load of engineering courses,” she said.

Professor Cristopher Yip, the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, also spoke at the event, and congratulated the team on their successful manufacture of Generation X.

The unveiling of Viridian onstage

In a wave of applause, team members pulled back the curtain to reveal their feat of design.

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Viridian is a boat-shaped solar-powered race car with a length of approximately three metres. The hood of the vehicle is covered with an array of solar panels. A glass hemisphere swells from the middle of the car, serving as the windshield.

In an interview with The Varsity, Hussain said that Viridian can reach a top speed of 120 kilometres per hour according to previous testing.

He said that the team continues to work on testing and characterizing the car ⁠— in addition to getting some much-needed sleep. This will be in preparation for racing Viridian in the international Bridgestone World Solar Challenge this autumn.

Racing 3000 kilometres in Australia

Viridian’s race will be the seventh time that the team’s vehicle will make the cross-continental trip from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia. Travelling north to south of the country, Viridian will race a course of 3000 kilometres.

The competition is set to begin in October. Before then, the team will repeatedly test the car to get as much characterized information about its performance as possible. Details such as its power consumption at certain speeds, as well as how certain environmental conditions affect Viridian’s performance, are especially valuable.

Potential commercial applications

Outside of racing competitions, solar-powered cars have an immense commercial potential. Hussain highlighted Lightyear, a start-up electric car manufacturer in the Netherlands.

The European company released their first solar-powered electric car on the same day as Blue Sky Solar Racing’s unveiling event. Its new car, named Lightyear One, is set to be released on the market soon, with a listed price of €149,000 in the Netherlands, roughly equivalent to 218,400 CAD.

In addition to developing solar-powered race cars, Hussain said that Blue Sky Solar Racing also aims to provide opportunities to enrich the experiences of undergraduates.

“The [goal] of the [Blue Sky Solar Racing],” said Hussain, “is to provide students with an opportunity to grow and develop outside of the classroom, as well as promote sustainable technology.”

Department of Engineering introduces artificial intelligence minor and certificate

The new program will be available to students in January

Department of Engineering introduces artificial intelligence minor and certificate

The Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering’s new Artificial Intelligence (AI) minor and certificate programs will be available for enrolment by students in the Core-8 and Engineering Science programs in January.

Students are required to fulfil three full course equivalents (FCE) to complete the minor, while students enrolled in the certificate program must complete 1.5 FCEs. Since a few of the courses required for the program fall out of the scope of students’ main discipline, some students may need to take extra courses to complete the requirements.

Students who complete the minor or certificate will receive a notation on their transcript.

Professor Jason Anderson from the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, a key figure behind the program, explains that all students will be required to take one foundational course, as well as courses in data structures and algorithms relevant to AI and machine learning.

Students enrolled in the certificate program can choose between traditional AI or machine learning for specialization. Students in the minor will learn about both and choose an additional area of interest to specialize in, such as computer vision or natural language processing.

Anderson explains that machine learning is one aspect of AI. In traditional AI, computers can make decisions on their own. In machine learning, computers use and learn from data to make decisions.

“The computer is actually trained to recognize images in different categories. In traditional AI, that’s more encoded in rules.”

“Students who take the certificate or minor will have hands on experience applying AI and machine learning techniques to real engineering problems,” says Anderson. In addition, students will be exposed to the ethical questions surrounding AI technology.

While there is currently no specific Professional Experience Year Co-op (PEY) opportunity for the AI minor and certificate, Anderson says that many students are already working with AI to some extent during their PEY.

Anderson also notes that AI ties in with other engineering disciplines in several ways. For instance, AI technologies can be used by civil engineers to understand traffic patterns or by chemical engineers in drug discovery.

In his own field, Anderson notes that AI technology is being used in computer-aided design tools that “create complicated digital circuits” in order “to produce higher quality designs, for example, that use less silicon area, that use less power, operate faster, to make predictions.”

“We want students who can research in this area but also have applied AI techniques,” says Anderson. Through this program, he hopes to foster engineering talent that will lead students to create startups, develop new AI technology, or further their education through graduate studies.

U of T team wins silver at international synthetic biology competition

Students developed alternative wastewater cleaning system using genetically engineered bacteria

U of T team wins silver at international synthetic biology competition

A U of T team took home a silver medal at this year’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Giant Jamboree competition for their project on an “environmentally friendly and economically feasible” way to clean wastewater using genetically engineered bacteria.

The competition, held on October 24–28 in Boston, Massachusetts, brought together more than 6,000 students and professionals of all levels and countries to showcase achievements in synthetic biology.

In trying to find an alternative wastewater cleaning solution, the U of T team used biomass flotation for bioremediation processes.

“We hypothesized that one could genetically engineer E. coli to bind to waste particles, and then float to the surface of the reactor, allowing for easy E. coli removal,” wrote the team in their drylab model.

“We have engineered bacteria to float by producing gas vesicles, and now we are trying to get these bacteria to bind pollutants so that they can float up with them and separate them from wastewater,” wrote Vice-President Internal Jack Castelli to The Varsity. The team has also mathematically modelled a bioreactor platform that makes use of their system.

According to President Amy Yeung, the group came up with the idea by talking to graduate students at their lab and reading scientific literature, and then searching for novel tools to find solutions to the problems they encountered.

“Coming across the use of gas vesicle in ultrasound imaging we also thought that it could be expressed in bacteria and used as a novel wastewater cleaning solution. So naturally, we decided to combine the two,” wrote Yeung.

When asked about any challenges they faced during their project, Lab Manager Tashi Rastogi said that the group had problems troubleshooting their genetically engineered constructs in the lab.

“With time we realised the importance of exercising reflexivity in our scientific process,” wrote Rastogi.

She also credited advice from graduate mentors in helping the group understand “both the biological systems [they] worked to engineer and the needs of the industrial systems [they] were designing [their] solution for.”

“The overarching goal of our project is to construct an efficient and inexpensive bio-remediation system, capable of separating pollutants from wastewater using bacteria,” wrote Castelli, who added that current processes are very costly and not environmentally friendly.

“If you have a substrate of interest that cells can bind or uptake, say heavy metals, and that’s present in a liquid medium, say mining effluent, then you could adapt the system to bind to or uptake the substrate and remove it from the medium,” he continued.

“This same logic can then be applied to microplastics, hormones, pharmaceuticals and other molecules of interest in other industries.”

The team included over 30 U of T students from across the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. This is the third medal that U of T has won since the club was founded in 2007.

The competition is run by the iGEM Foundation, which has its roots in an independent study course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since its founding in 2003, it has grown into the non-profit organization that runs this international competition.