NT solar race draws global headhunters
Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk isn't the only solar power enthusiast preparing for a launch in the Australian outback.
Competitors in the 2017 World Solar Challenge from Darwin to Adelaide are making final preparations before they take off this weekend for the 3000km sprint in their sun-powered electric cars racing across the desert.
Fifty teams from all over the world are competing in the race and individuals would be wise to keep their CVs handy as the race is also a recruitment goldmine for the most innovative companies in the world.
Talent scouts from Tesla, Space X, Google, NASA and Volvo will be eyeballing teams on the lookout for the cleverest young engineers in the field.
World Solar Challenge (WSC) event director Chris Selwood says the top tech companies are interested in the hands-on innovation the challenge provides.
"The teams have developed the practical skills to do crazy things over the years," Mr Selwood told AAP.
"It's not just their technical expertise to create the vehicle, the challenge is also a logistical exercise that's been compared to a space mission."
It's that X factor that the talent scouts are searching for and Mr Musk's company Tesla is the most aggressive headhunter in the pack, picking up six young engineers from the 2015 challenge.
Tesla was so interested in the teams it quietly backed the last race and threw invite-only parties to woo the best and brightest competitors.
NASA's jet propulsion engineer Sidd Bikkannavar understands the attraction the race provides.
He's been coming to WSC for 14 years and says the race did more than just prepare him for his career in the space program, it continues to sharpen his creative engineering skills.
"The WSC throws real-world engineering challenges at you, under intense pressure, with very real consequences for failure."
This hothouse of engineering innovation in remote central Australia, coupled with the enthusiastic recruiting of the race field, has created a who's who of solar challenge alumni, including Google co-founder Larry Page and Tesla co- founder and chief technical officer JB Straubel.
For Straubel, who competed in the Stanford solar car team 14 years ago while he was studying, credits his WSC race experience as a "key" to the success of Tesla.
"I recruited most of the people from the team," he said in a recent documentary about the WSC.
"I think it matters more than most classes you can take," said the 41-year-old.
"Teams' technologies are often ahead of their time," he said, adding Tesla still looks for young engineers who have competed in the challenge.
University of NSW engineering student and frontman for the Australian Sunswift team, Simba Kuestler, says he isn't surprised the race is a magnet for recruiters.
"You've got these teams who have this level of dedication and innovation, and initiative," he told AAP from Darwin.
"From the very get-go the challenge paints a whole new picture and standard," he said.
The winning team will be aiming to reach Adelaide within four days relying solely on the sun, according to race organisers, with teams given a week to complete the course.
Some competitors may even settle down in South Australia if they're head-hunted during the race.
Mr Musk and his Tesla crew are currently installing a 100-megawatt lithium-ion battery in James Town, 200km east of Adelaide to power homes in the state.
IMAGE/The Tokai University car from Japan competes during the first day of the 2015 World Solar Challenge near Katherine, Australia, on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. 45 Solar cars from 25 different countries participate in a 3,000 km race from Darwin to Adelaide. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)