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Solar-powered 'family car' of the future prepares to race across the Outback

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It's not quite a stylish sedan, but a team of students from the Netherlands' Eindhoven University of Technology have put together what they believe is the world's first solar-powered car that can tote around the whole family. The team debuted the "Stella" solar car today, which they intend to race over 1,800 miles across the Australian outback as part of the World Solar Challenge. If a vehicle built for four with a trunk in back doesn't sound like a traditional race car, it shouldn't: Stella will be raced in a new class of the Solar Challenge that's meant to encourage the creation of practical solar vehicles — the kind you could one day drive to work. Stella will be judged on speed, energy use, weight carried, and simple practicality.

A race for practicality, not just speed

Though the car is entirely powered by solar energy, it doesn't quite have what it takes to make it through the eight-day-long race without a charge. The car should be able to generate half of the power it needs throughout the trip, but it'll top off at solar-powered charging stations along the way. The team also built a few other smart upgrades into the car — just about all of the controls are handled through a touchscreen, and the steering wheel "expands or contracts" to let the driver know if they're going too fast or slow. Nine other participating teams will be vying for the gold when the race kicks off October 6th.