Human Factor

Challenging. Exciting. Friendly

Student teams are getting ready to race for sustainability at the Shell Eco-marathon in London. After a mishap in the 2017 competition, Team UCL is now determined to make it to the finishing line.

The team for UCL has been competing in the Shell Eco-marathon (SEM) for the past four years, each year gaining in experience. In 2017 they thought everything was working well, fate then intervened and they ended up with a tyre puncture and couldn’t finish the race. This year – they hope is their year.

Facts and figures

Team name: UCL

Car name: Hydrone AB3

University: University College London

Country: UK

First Shell Eco-marathon: 2014


Quick-fire round

Your car has a very funky name, what was the inspiration for it?

A legacy name, Hy is obviously from hydrogen as that is our fuel, the drone – not too sure but I am sure there is a good reason.  AB are the initials of one of the first people to help with the development, so it is a nice way to remember their involvement.  And three … because it is our third evolution of the car.

How many people do you have in the team?

We have eight technical team members, two co-supervisors who give technical advice and a driver, plus one additional support member.  For me, it is my second year in the team, last year I played a minor role but it gave me great insight into it. This year I am the team manager and it has been a roller coaster but a great, real learning experience.

What are your hopes for this year?

Our car has an amazing motor, with a data logging system – so coming into the event, we were really going for the podium. But we’ve been experiencing problems. We’ve got a new regulator and we’re now running a simulation lap on the system to make sure it works. So, right now, we just want to get through the technical inspection and just to finish a race.  If we manage this, we will be the first UCL team to finish.

Between last year’s race and this year – what changes have you made to the car?

This year we had three priorities, our supervisors wanted us to have the onboard data system and our wiring looms had to be to industry standard. We also needed to improve efficiency, so after trying several things we eventually found a new motor that was more compact, lighter and ran more efficiently.  We have also been lucky enough to get a dynamic load system which has enabled us to simulate on road conditions, changing many variables including safety factors.  In future years we also want to be able to test the mechanical parts.

What makes a great driver?

Dedication. The UCL team driver is not part of the technical team and it is not part of her course, so she won’t be graded. But she turns up every day and does not complain and helps with whatever needs doing.  You also need to be a little bit fearless – but not reckless. The driver is enclosed in a tiny space sitting in front of a tank of hydrogen and even though you know it has passed safety and technical inspection, it still takes courage. Oh, and it helps to be small!

What advice would you give to others thinking of taking part is SEM?

Get involved, even if you don’t have the technical knowledge yet, you will get exposure to the environment. Otherwise, it is a steep learning curve. This year we have two second year students, which is great for the team next year as they will have a good foundation. Comparing this to other projects we could have done, it is a lot more work, but you learn so much more and it is real engineering and real life. In SEM, it is not enough for it to work theoretically. It has to work for real.

Have you had any support this week from Linde?

Our supervisor has good connections at Linde and has been able to call on their expertise and advice. This week, they have specifically helped us with the regular problems.

Final question – can you describe SEM in three words?

Challenging. Exciting. Friendly.