This Thursday, July 28, Formula Electric Belgium, a group of engineering students, unveiled its brand new car: the Super Nova. It is the first autonomous (driverless) electric car built by students in Belgium.
Since 2009, young people from KU Leuven and the Haute Ecole Thomas More have come together every year to build a new electric racing car with the best technological improvements. This year, the group of 38 students wanted to take on a new challenge by embarking on the autonomous car.
“We were ready for the next stage”, explains Remko Schippers, team manager of Formula Electric Belgium. “So we rebuilt and upgraded an old car to make it completely self-driving.”
Making a car autonomous is not an easy task. You have to install a multitude of sensors and a computer in the car. Before getting down to business, the students trained on a go-kart. Once the sensors and algorithms were tested, they were able to move on to the next step: transferring the hardware to a reduced-size test platform. “Going from a simple go-kart to an autonomously driving platform gave us a huge boost”, explains Remko Schippers. “From that moment, we knew we were getting closer to our final goal: implementing the autonomous system on a race car.”
Objective: register him for races
“All of this took two years of work,” explains Julien Pirard, one of the two French-speakers on the team. “The first year, the students wrote memoirs on the subject in order to roughen the work. Then we really started to build the prototypes”. Throughout the course, the students were able to benefit from the help of their partners – no less than 120 companies! – and young graduates. But no teacher was involved in the project. “If we want to be able to register our cars in official student competitions, we cannot ask our teachers for help,” says Julien Pirard.
The students’ objective is to have their new racing car compete next year in the Formula Student, the most prestigious race for cars created from A to Z by students. In this competition, the cars are classified into several categories: combustion engine, electric cars or autonomous cars. Since 2009, the youngsters of Formula Electric Belgium have been competing exclusively in the “electric” category. But, from next year, their goal is also to offer a car in the “autonomous” category.
“These competitions allow us to prove our skills. We are judged on both design and performance”, continues Julien Pirard. “It’s a great way to put into practice the knowledge learned in class. Not to mention that the Formula Student is a very famous race. F1 teams come to see the cars and recruit among the students.”
“At Formula Electric Belgium, our goal is also to offer innovations in the automotive field with an environmental approach”, summarizes Julien Pirard. “This year, for example, we have replaced carbon fibers with more sustainable materials. We also use recycled plastic to build our cars.”
To see their new autonomous car in competition, however, it will be necessary to wait until July 2023. Until then, they will be able to continue to compete with their other 100% electric model, with in particular two next competitions planned in Hungary and Croatia.