development health transport

The African solar taxi

A few months ago I wrote about what is probably the world’s most sustainable car – the Catecar dragonfly, which runs on off-grid solar. It’s aimed at airports and resorts at the moment, so it’s not something most of us are going to get to see on the roads just yet.

I recently came across another team working on a solar car, but with a very different audience. They’re working for pregnant women in Zimbabwe. Transport is a big factor in maternal mortality, because many women don’t have any way to get to hospital and give birth without medical help. Many mothers don’t have access to a car, or cannot afford a taxi. It should be a simple problem, but petrol is expensive and supply isn’t always reliable. The sun, on the other hand, is a constant.

So a team of engineers in Australia is working with a mission hospital in the Zambezi Valley to develop a solar taxi. It needs to be lightweight but able to handle rough terrain, and have a range of around 80km. It needs to be able to seat a driver, a mother and her birth partner. There is no such vehicle on the market, so the team are developing their own, using their experience developing cars for the World Solar Challenge.

The prototype is currently under construction, and a few months ago it looked like this:

solar taxi

It’s got a little way to go yet, and it’s not surprising given the challenges of the project. It takes a lot more energy to drive on rough ground than on smooth roads, and an underpowered vehicle won’t do anybody any good. It’s also got to be both robust and lightweight. That’s not going to be easy, but let’s hope they get their prototype to trial this year.

You can follow the team’s progress on the website or on Facebook.

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