Designing Lightyear One: Aerodynamics

Annemiek Koers — Aerodynamics Engineer

With aerodynamics we study how well the air flows around the car. Our job at the Aerodynamics team is to ensure that the air will move along the curves of the car as smoothly as possible. Because we stop the air from moving in swirls, into holes or into interstices, we reduce friction between the car and the air.  We want the car to cut through the air just like a raindrop – the ultimate example of an aerodynamic object.

So now the question is: Why does this matter? Since we do not have an infinite surface for our solar panels there is only a certain amount of energy available to the car, especially if you want to drive on solar energy only. We want to use the energy that is available as efficiently as possible. To do so the car needs to glide through the air: we want low air resistance. We want to give you the longest possible solar range. The less energy the car wastes moving air, the further the car can get on the same energy. For this reason, aerodynamics is one of our key focus points. This focus sets us apart from other car manufacturers.

Annemiek answers a short Q&A during the first windtunnel test

The most striking example of our focus on aerodynamics is found in the way we the design the exterior of the car. For the exterior shape of the car we work together with an Italian design company. There is a strong interaction between their aesthetic design and what shapes we prefer in terms of the aerodynamics. The connection between the design company and what we aim to create in the aerodynamics team is immense. By working together we can finetune the Lightyear One into the ultimate aerodynamic car. I believe we excel at this in respect to other car manufacturers. To us the aerodynamic design goes hand in hand with the aesthetic design. Other companies often place much more emphasis on the looks alone.

“To us the aerodynamic design goes hand in hand with the aesthetic design”.

My passion for aerodynamics has been long standing. After my bachelor studies in Aerospace Engineering I joined the solar team of Delft University as an aerodynamics engineer. Over the course this project I got to know the founders of Lightyear as our colleagues from the first solar team of Eindhoven University. Both our teams became world champions of the World Solar Challenge. Moving on after this experience, I continued my studies and got a masters degree in Aerodynamics. My love for aerodynamics also shows in my passion for glider planes. Glider planes can have a range of over 600 km per flight without an internal motor! The car industry has always interested me because new ideas can be used in development quickly, and with the sustainable vision of Lightyear I am excited to contribute to the future of transportation.

We are still improving the outer shape of the car to reduce resistance. I love this creative process. It is a constant challenge, always looking for things that will lower the air resistance even further so we get closer to our ultimate resistance goal. Right now the CDA is estimated to be below 0.20, well below the current market leaders, but we are always looking to create an even lower number. The CDA is the ‘Coefficient of the Drag Area’, that is the resistance coefficient of the car times the frontal surface. It is a value used to indicate the aerodynamic performance of the car.

Designing the Lightyear One is special. The nice thing about my work at Lightyear is how I am given the freedom chase an ever-lower value. The interaction with the other modules makes my job especially interesting: “Okay, I’ve come up with this idea and it will help with the aerodynamics this much, how does this influence you? Can we apply this idea, or does it cost in aerodynamics on your side? ” In my job I get to unite the practical and the beautiful, sexy part of the car.

 

I am especially proud to be part of the team, of how we present ourselves to the rest of the world. I also love the reactions that I get from people when I tell them where I work and what I do. In addition, the first wind tunnel test was quite a highlight for me. We simulate many of our aerodynamic designs in software programs before testing them in real life, but putting our design to test in a windtunnel is different. I personally prefer the experimental side and putting ideas to the test in practice.

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