Anniversary Alumni Interview - Martin McBrien
To celebrate our 10th Anniversary, this year, we are reconnecting with a key figure from each year of the team's history, each month until WSC 2017. To kick off this series, we interviewed team founder, Martin McBrien, about his time with the team and how it has all changed over the years.
Martin McBrien - Team Manager, 2007I led the team from conception through the development of our first car, Affinity. We drove Affinity on an End to End tour (from Land's End to John O'Groats) visiting schools, sponsors, and attractions along the way.
What is your most vivid memory of your time with CUER?
Here are a couple of vivid memories from this process:
A particular low was failing our first attempt at having Affinity declared road legal via what was then called the 'Single Vehicle Approval' process. Affinity was very far away from anything that was normally examined through this process, and some of the evaluation criteria were based on the examiner's subjective judgement. Upon seeing Affinity, our examiner said 'no' right away, which was heartbreaking after months of work....but my vivid memory was actually what happened later that day. As soon as we got back to Cambridge, an emergency team meeting was convened. The determination from the rest of the team, and in particular Anthony and Charlie (who were to lead the team the following year), really picked me up from that low point. In their minds, there was no question of giving up and no time to be wasted dwelling on what had gone wrong. We quickly put into action a successful Plan B, and End to End was still on!
My second vivid memory comes from the End to End trip. At King's School in Worcester, a teacher told me "it's events like these that shape the future career of these children". I'd be very proud if some of the children any of the other schools we visited ended up being engineers with some motivation from us.
Affinity winding through the Scottish OutbackWhat was the most important thing that CUER taught you?
The importance of calmness and rational thought in the face of challenges. Over the last couple of years I've spent a lot of time on production lines in Asia, and things go wrong frequently - thanks to CUER I never panic.
Do you feel being part of CUER influenced what you do now?
There is no doubt that the experience of leading CUER has made me more capable as an engineer and still affects the way I approach every project I take on today.
What has impressed you most about the team since you left?
I am always most impressed by the dedication of the team members, particularly as I am able to relate to the challenge of juggling their academic responsibilities with the open-ended challenge of building a solar car. This can only happen successfully with the right combination of naivety, bravery, and ability. I'm excited to see what differences are made by the introduction of full-time sabbatical roles for students over the most recent design cycle.
Why do you think, 10 years on, that CUER is still relevant and worthy?
One of the major motivations in starting the team was to fill a practical gap in the engineering education we get at Cambridge. To this day, the experiences and skills from being part of the team contribute to making great engineers that can go and affect real change in the world. In that regard, the team will always have relevance and worth.
What would you like to see the team do in the coming years?
Since 2013 with the introduction of a 'Cruiser class', the trend in the World Solar Challenge has been towards development of more 'practical' characteristics in the cars. While this certainly adds to the challenge, the cars still cost too much to be truly practical. I'd like to see CUER attempt to go one step further and see if there is a solution that is both practical and cost-effective i.e. can you cross the Australian outback with a solar powered car that can be mass-produced for ~£20k? That could be a game changer beyond the world of solar car racing.