On Thursday, July 28, Formula Electric Belgium, a group of engineering students, unveiled its new car: the Super Nova. It is the first self-driving electric car (without a driver) made by students in Belgium.
Since 2009, young people from KU Leuven and Haute Ecole Thomas More have come together every year to build a new electric race car with the best technological improvements. This year, the group of 38 students wanted to take on a new challenge by riding in a self-driving car.
“We were ready for the next stage,” explains Remko Schippers, Team Principal of Formula Electric Belgium. “So we rebuild and upgrade an old car to make it fully self-driving.”
Making a car self-driving is not an easy task. You must install several sensors and a computer in the car. Before getting down to work, the students practice the mini-kart. Once the sensors and algorithms had been tested, they were able to move on to the next step: moving the devices to a test platform of compact size. “The transition from a simple van to a self-driving platform has given us a boost,” explains Remco Schippers. “From that moment on, we knew we were getting close to our ultimate goal: applying an autonomous driving system to a race car.”
The goal: to score in the races
“All this took two years of work,” explains Julien Berard, one of the French-speaking people on the team. “In the first year, the students wrote notes about it in order to solidify the work. Then we really started building the prototypes.” During the course, 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 for formal student competitions, we can’t ask our teachers for help,” says Julian Berard.
The students’ goal is to have their new race car compete next year in the Formula Student, the most popular race for cars made by students from the ground up. In this competition, cars are categorized into several categories: combustion engine, electric cars, and autonomous cars. Since 2009, Formula Electric Belgium youth have been competing exclusively in the “Electricity” category. But from next year, their goal is also to introduce a car in the “self-driving” category.
“These competitions allow us to prove our skills. We are judged in terms of design and performance,” continues Julien Berard. “It’s a great way to apply the knowledge gained in class. Not to mention that Formula Student is a very popular race. F1 teams come to see the cars and recruit among the students.”
Julien Pirard sums up: “At Formula Electric Belgium, our goal is also to deliver automotive innovations with an environmental approach.” “This year, for example, we replaced carbon fiber with more sustainable materials. We also use recycled plastic to build our cars.”
To see their new self-driving car in competition, it will be necessary to wait until July 2023. Until then, they will be able to continue competing with their 100% electric model, with the next two competitions planned in particular in Hungary and Croatia.